Tuesday, Jul 29, 2014 04:51 pm est

Steele speaks about fashion, academics

Posted on October 30, 2013 | by Julianne McShane

via facebook.com

Dr. Valerie Steele, an author, fashion historian, curator and director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, possesses the power to captivate a room while leading an intellectual discussion on a topic some may consider to be truly trivial — fashion.

While speaking to a packed auditorium at NYU’s Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò last Friday evening, Oct. 25, Steele remarked that it was this very assumption — the idea that fashion is simply a frivolous subject, devoid of any cultural or historical significance — that propelled her to achieve much of her success.

Steele, a slim, seemingly perpetually smiling blonde nicknamed “the Freud of fashion” by fashion writer Suzy Menkes, began by speaking about the tension between the spheres of academia and fashion. Steele first realized that fashion did, indeed, have a place in the academic world when she read articles in a scholarly journal on corsets while pursuing her graduate studies at Yale University.

“It was then I realized fashion was part of a cultural history, and that I could study fashion,” Steele said.

However, when she told a professor she would be writing her dissertation on fashion — not fascism, as he initially thought he overheard — he scoffed and walked away, leaving Steele to wonder if her initial assumption — that fashion really was important — was incorrect.

Because of this rejection, Steele realized that fashion was largely not respected by scholars because its historical and cultural importance were not emphasized nearly enough. This led Steele to launch Fashion Theory, a scholarly journal, in 1997.

Steele has carved out her niche at FIT, as she’s taught in the graduate school, expanded the school’s Museum, and curated over 20 exhibitions for the museum — most of which she refers to as, simply, “radical.” Additionally, Steele has authored numerous books, including “The Corset: A Cultural History,” “Paris Fashion” and “Gothic: Dark Glamour.”

The Museum at FIT — founded in 1969 and containing over 50,000 garments — is currently showcasing an especially timely exhibition, with the recent defeat of DOMA “A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk”. The timing was, according to Steele, purely a coincidence — although she did acknowledge the inextricable link between fashion and sexuality.

Additionally, Steele discussed the evolution of fashion in recent years and its greater acceptance in academia — in part, she said, because “more people are studying different aspects of fashion history.” The event was moderated by Eugenia Paulicelli, professor at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York, and Grazia d’Annunzio, special projects editor at Condé Nast. D’Annunzio described what she called the “Valerie Steele touch.”

“She approaches the subculture and historical and aesthetic periods and sees how they can be connected with current trends or recurring trends,” D’Annunzio said.


 Julianne McShane is a contributing writer. Email her at bstyle@nyunews.com.


profile portrait
Felipe De La Hoz

Multimedia Editor | Felipe De La Hoz is a Colombian national studying journalism at the College of Arts and Sciences. Having been born in Colombia and raised in the United States, Mexico and Brazil, Felipe is a trilingual travel aficionado and enjoys working in varied and difficult environments. Apart from his photography, Felipe enjoys investigative reporting and interviews, interviewing the likes of Colombian ex-M-19 guerrilla fighters and controversial politician Jimmy McMillan. He has covered everything from governmental conferences to full-blown riots, as well as portraiture shoots and dining photography. Having worked under Brazilian photojournalists for Reuters and AFP, Felipe hopes to one day work on demanding journalistic projects and contribute to the global news cycle.

Ann Schmidt

News Editor | Ann is a liberal studies sophomore who lived in Florence during her freshman year. She plans on double-majoring in journalism and political science and is always busy. She is constantly making lists and she loves to laugh.


Daniel Yeom

Daniel started at the Features desk of WSN last Spring, writing restaurant reviews whilst indulging on free food and consequently getting fat. Last Fall, he was the dining editor, and he this semester he is senior editor. Daniel is in Gallatin (living the dream) studying Food & Travel Narratives, incorporating aspects of Food Studies, Journalism, and Media, Culture, and Communication. He loves food more than life itself.

Hannah Luu

Deputy Multimedia Editor | Hannah Luu is a ridiculously great Deputy Multimedia Editor. She is a sophomore from Northern California. If you think Northern California means San Francisco you might need to closely examine a map. She is passionate about NPR and being half Asian.

  • How to join:

    The Washington Square News holds open weekly budget meetings at its office located at 838 Broadway every Sunday. All are welcome to attend, no matter your background in journalism, writing, or reporting. Specific times for meetings by desk are listed below. If you wish to talk to an editor before you attend, feel free to check out the Staff page.

    5 P.M. 6 P.M. 6 P.M. 6:30 P.M. 6:30 P.M. 7 P.M.

    Applying for an editor position: Applications for editor positions during the fall or spring semesters are available twice each academic year and can be found here when posted. Applications for the Fall 2012 semester are closed, but check back for Spring 2013. Those who wish to apply are urged to publish pieces in the newspaper and contact current editors for shadowing.

    History of the Washington Square News:

    The Washington Square News is the official daily student newspaper of New York University and serves the NYU, Greenwich Village, and East Village communities. Founded as an independent newspaper in 1973, the WSN allows its undergraduate writers and photographers to cover campus and city news and continues to grow its strong body of award-winning journalists and photographers.

  • The WSN has a circulation of about 60,000 and can be found in over a hundred purple bins distributed throughout campus. It is published Monday through Thursday during the fall and spring semesters and online on Friday, with additional special issues published in the summer. The newspaper recently revamped its website during the Fall 2012 semester.

    Like few campus newspapers in the country, the paper is editorially and financially independent from the university and is solely responsible for selling advertisements to fund its production. The WSN, including its senior staff, is run solely by current undergraduate students and the business-division is largely student-operated as well.

    A Board of Directors comprised of alumni, NYU professors and working news media professionals serves as advisors to the paper. Board members have no control in the WSN's editorial policy or newsroom operations. Alumni of the newspaper are established and leading journalists in such news organizations as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, NBC news, ABC news, Fox News, and USA Today.