I often find myself defending my decision to study a fashion related degree against some of those who study more traditionally deemed academic degrees. Although my degree, Fashion and Dress History, is closely linked to the rather more academic History of Art, it is thus deemed more intelligent than other fashion related degrees. After all our future King, Prince William and his wife, Kate Middleton met whilst studying this very degree at St. Andrews. My degree aligns itself with the arts and humanities faculty, which includes Politics, Philosophy, History, English Literature, Architecture and Fine Art. However I am still faced by confused faces and being questioned on "What even is fashion history? Do you just look at designers all day?"
My degree is actually only offered in just two institutes in the United Kingdom; the University of Brighton and Central St. Martins, as part of the University of Arts London. The former is where I attend, and the latter offers a more pretentious version of the same degree, in my opinion. It is worth noting that as soon as I got my unconditional offer from Brighton, I immediately withdrew my application to UAL. Having worked in the fashion industry in London, and lived in Greater London all my life, the idea of studying there was unappealing, as was the idea of going to class with some of the people I had encountered on the open day.
As I prepare to go into my second, and penultimate year - pending I don't fail - I've realised I'd spent much of the first year degrading my own area of study and level of intelligence by saying "Oh it's a bit of a made up degree" or claiming I'm "not smart enough for Sussex", when asked what and where I study, because saying Fashion and Dress History felt kind of stupid in response to a Medicine or Economics student. When in fact, I got into Sussex to study English Literature three years ago when I was 18. I, instead, decided to take two years out and then decided that Fashion and Dress History was what I actually wanted to invest three years and nearly £30,000 into. I feel that studying fashion somehow discredits you as an intellectual, in the eyes of most.
However my degree isn't simply just looking at an old dress and talking about how pretty it is (just so you know, guy from the smoking area). The study of fashion history explores many areas not usually associated with the seemingly shallow and stupid fashion preconceptions. We look at politics, society and economics and how the political and socio-economical factors of a period have affected the style, marketing, manufacturing and consumption of fashion over the last 150 years.
Coco Chanel supposedly once said:
“Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street, fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.”
My degree so far has proven this to be true, and the things I've learnt already in my first year have given me an in-depth view on subjects that ensure I am knowledgeable in a broad spectrum of areas that do not fall simply into what someone is wearing.
Moreover, fashion design students, arguably, spend far more on their degree in terms of effort, time and actual money, than most. Fashion and Textile students have more contact time than most degrees, and are often in university all day everyday, unlike the 9 hour contact time seen by others. Not only is it more time consuming and demanding, the actual buying of fabrics and equipment is far more than the albeit overprices reading lists faced by students in other departments. To discredit one on their degree is not only an archaic reminder of the elitism of British education, but it is a gross social judgement on someones intelligence by valuing academia over creativity.
So from this day forth, I will no longer discredit myself as a fashion and dress history student by saying it's slightly made up, or deny my intelligence in defence of the academic misconceptions about fashion students. My degree is as valid as any other arts or humanities degree, and for the record, I don't spend all day writing exclusively about pretty dresses made by Chanel.