Inside Out: Dress and Identity in the Middle Ages
38th Annual Conference, Center for Medieval Studies
The devil's minion uses clothing to tempt a bishop to sell his soul to the devil (British Library, Royal 10 E IV, f. 167r.)
Saturday March 17 – Sunday March 18, 2018
Lincoln Center Campus
113 W. 60th St., New York, NY 10023
Dress was a primary expression of identity in the European middle ages, when individuals made strategic choices about clothing and bodily adornment (including hairstyle, jewelry, and other accessories) in order to communicate gender, ethnicity, status, occupation, and other personal and group identities. Because outward appearances were often interpreted as a reliable reflection of inner selves, medieval dress, in its material embodiment as well as in literary and artistic representations, carried extraordinary moral and social meaning, as well as offering seductive possibilities for self-presentation.
This conference aims to bring together recent research on the material culture and social meanings of dress in the Middle Ages to explore the following or related questions:
- Given that very little actual clothing survives from the Middle Ages, how does our reliance on artistic, documentary, and literary representations affect the study of dress and its meaning?
- What aspects of medieval dress were most effective in communicating identity and what messages did they send? What strategies were served by dress, either embodied or in representation?
- How did religious, cultural, and economic factors, such as cross-cultural contact and trade and/or technology influence dress and its uses?
- Did ‘fashion’ or the so-called ‘Western fashion system’ actually begin in the Middle Ages? If so, what social and cultural changes did it inspire or reflect?