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Seeing Through Clothes

4.08 of 5 stars 4.08  ·  rating details  ·  83 ratings  ·  17 reviews
In this generously illustrated book, Anne Hollander examines the representation of the body and clothing in Western art, from Greek sculpture and vase painting through medieval and renaissance portraits, to contemporary films and fashion photography. First published ahead of its time, this book has become a classic.
Paperback, 504 pages
Published March 22nd 1993 by University of California Press (first published 1978)
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Feb 22, 2014 Lobstergirl rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Lobstergirl by: Kate Perugini
Shelves: own, art

Seeing Through Clothes was unable to answer this burning question I've had for awhile: What the heck is going on with this dress? Why does it look as if its wearer had just unfolded it from a square?

John Everett Millais, The Black Brunswicker, 1860

As interested as I am in both representational art and fashion, Hollander's book failed to keep me engaged. It does have many black and white plates, which is good - there are very few pages which go unillustrated. But particularly in the first couple
This is the most thorough history of clothing and the human form in art and history that I have ever seen. The pictures included in the book are wonderful, but it's really just not a subject that moves me, at all. Don't get me wrong, I love clothes, but so much of the history relied here is really how the male gaze has draped the female form and that bums me out. I do understand why it is a must-read for anyone studying fashion design.
I picked this up because it was hailed in Bookforum as being a masterful study of clothes through time. I found it far less than masterful, but still interesting/useful in some parts. The organization of the book was never intuitive, and became grating: chapters were broken into one-word phrases: "drapery," "nudity," "undress," "costume," "dress," and "mirrors." I probably wouldn't have ever forced myself to finish it, except that I'm giving a talk on campus this week on women's fashion through ...more
Liss Capello
I picked this up thinking it would be an interesting study of the history of fashion as shown in art, demonstrating how the way the nude body is painted at different times suggests and implies the clothing and fashions in body type that were popular at that time. While it did indeed discuss that (and fascinatingly so), this book is about much more. It blends the disciplines of fashion study and art history meticulously, and where I am not well versed in art history, much of the ground covered he ...more
Art history and culture presented with a wry, readable tone. The first sections were the best, IMO, since there were a lot of illustrations of what was meant. An updated version would be published on a color tablet so that the reproductions could be seen better--I mean, they did the best they could in 1975, but some of the painting reproductions are really hard to see.
Caitlin Cohn
Hollander made a significant contribution to the field of Apparel Studies by linking Dress History with Art History, and I would recommend this book to serious dress historians. However, Seeing Through Clothes is dated and some of Hollander's claims are dubious or incorrect. For example, Hollander claims that people living in Greece during the Hellenistic period did not wear underwear, but she provides no evidence (and the lack of images of people wearing underwear does not necessarily indicate ...more
Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides
Sep 17, 2013 Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Snail in Danger (Sid) by: On Reflection (Jonathan Miller)
Very nice prose. A collection of essays more than a really coherent single narrative, though. Well-chosen illustrations, though in this edition at least none of them are in color. Some of the topics covered included: draped clothing as a decorative motif since antiquity; clothes in books; clothing in erotica and the male gaze; mirrors; theatrical costumes; black as a perennial fashion statement; clothing in fiction. It didn't really tackle class issues and some of the author's statements concern ...more
I actually rather dislike this book, but it is canon in my non-existant field. It is very structuralist makes a lot of painfully obvious observations, like that clothing affects the way we see the body. I'm trying to remember that it was first written in 1978 when that was indeed a novel observation. When I force myself to read past the banality and the unfair assumptions Hollander makes, I find she actually occasionally says something insightful when she's discussing individual works of art.
I read this book when I first learned of it back in 1993. I've always been interested in visual communications, art history, clothing, fads and the like. This book was a really interesting look at clothing throughout the ages, how some fashions have shaped and re-shaped our bodies (think corsets - egads) and how socio-economic situations have shaped our clothing choices (WWII, Rosie the Riveter). This is another book that needed replacing after numerous people read and re-read it.
I would love to see a new edition of this book. Or possibly a reconsideration? It's true that there's a lot of naive/really obvious things stated that seem incredibly trite to us now -- but as other reviewers have noted, its importance cannot be discounted.

That being said, I found the costume chapter to be the weakest, and a little all over the place -- could have used some tighter editing.
Masterful work on the role of clothes in art and how it reflects the cultures and mores of each period. Well researched and full of info. Loved it.
Dec 10, 2007 jennifer is currently reading it
Hollander offers a unique perspective on history and representation in art through the lense of fashion.

Anne Hollander is one of the well known historian... painting, clothes, arts, and society..
An interesting history/meditation on what clothes have meant through human history.
A. Thurman
Jan 14, 2010 A. Thurman marked it as to-read
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Hollander was an independent scholar and historian who wrote about both art and dress.
More about Anne Hollander...
Sex and Suits Feeding The Eye: Essays Moving Pictures Fabric of Vision: Dress and Drapery in Painting O Sexo e as Roupas

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“People seem always actually to know, with a degree of pain that has required the comfort of fairy tales, that when you are dressed in any particular way at all, you are revealed rather than hidden.” 1 likes
“Despite all ideological attempts to transcend the mode in clothes, it is the lust of the eye for change, the power of the eye to make instant associations, and its need to demand and to create and combine images that hold clothing to significant and delicate shifts of dynamic visual form.” 0 likes
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