The Looks of Austerity: Fashions for Hard Times

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The hemline index, still often referenced by fashion journalists and bloggers, supposedly identifies a relationship between fashion style and economic indicators. The index makes little sense, but its enduring popularity indicates a broader notion that that fashion does respond to economic circumstances. This article examines the difficult relationship between economics and fashion theory. It highlights the poverty of conceptions of fashion in different forms of economic thinking, including micro-economic modeling and a range of macro-economic and critical perspectives, but also examines the hostility to economic approaches in much fashion theory. Drawing upon historical work on austerity fashion in the 1940s, it argues that the relationship between fashion and economics is best addressed not through abstract models or grand-theory, but by careful contextual examination of the complexities of particular times and geographical contexts. The final section of the paper indicates some key directions for thinking about the relationship between fashion and austerity, and explores the potential of Raymond Williams’ notion of “structure of feeling” in connecting the materiality of fashionable clothing with the materialism of economic change.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)477–499
Number of pages23
JournalFashion Theory. The Journal of Dress, Body and Culture
Issue number4
Early online date22 May 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017
EventThe Look of Austerity - Museum of London, London, United Kingdom
Duration: 11 Sept 201512 Sept 2015


  • Fashion
  • Austerity
  • Fashion cycles
  • Economic cycles
  • hemline index
  • Raymond Williams
  • Structure of Feeling

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