The relationship between culture and fashion is intrinsic and dynamic. Cultures across the world use clothing to make statements on the nature of power relations, personal relationships and hierarchies within communities. The links are diverse and often complex, involving sociological and psychological research. It is therefore important to find a good dissertation topic that reflects these concerns, one that is flexible and dynamic, while allowing room to focus on specific research questions. Your chosen topic simply must reflect your own interests and concerns, as well as the trends of contemporary research. Choose something that is comparable, not too remote, and something that might interest, or even entertain, your examiner. A good dissertation topic will already have a substantial amount written about it, but will also offer you the chance to put your own individual thoughts and ideas across.

Iconography
For centuries fashion has been identified as reflecting changing cultural trends, and is especially relevant to the high profile world of music and celebrity culture.  What are icons?  Why do we need icons in today’s society?  These are the sorts of questions raised during the study of celebrities and fashion.  Dynamic and particularly relevant to young people’s culture, this subject offers a closer look at the celebrity culture and how it is used and portrayed in the fashion world.

  • A window into another world: Understanding the fashion icon.
  • Imagining Monroe:  A retrospective encounter with one of the world’s most fashionable women.
  • Hepburn, De Givenchy and Haute Couture.
  • James Dean and the Café Culture.
  • Fashioning the Elite: What the life-long friendship between Hubert de Givenchy and Audrey Hepburn brought to the fashion world.
  • Mad for Madonna: The high and low fashions of Eighties pop culture.
  • If Looks could Kill: Kylie Minogue and the image of the Pop Princess.
  • Fashioning an Idol: Boy band culture and teenage clothing.
  • Eminently Eminem: Fashions of the rapping culture.
  • Glitter, glam, and an expanding waistline: What Elvis brought to the fashion world.
  • Beatle Mania and the Sixties look.
  • Westwood, Punk, and The Sex Pistols.
  • What celebrity culture has done for high street fashion.
  • ‘Pride and Prejudice': How Austen still captures the imaginations of designers today.

History of Fashion
Fashion history has the largest body of research from which to draw from in writing a dissertation.  Pictorial analyses are useful to make specific comparisons between certain aspects of dress that have changed and those that have stayed remained relatively the same. This subject is a rich and interesting field of research, with an array of historical research to choose from. Some of the more obscure, rare books on fashion through the ages can be particularly useful.  It is important to remember that contemporary fashions bear obvious and subtle links to fashions throughout the ages, and that most items – such as the hat, jacket, and shoe – have remained relatively unchanged in shape, concept and function for a very long time.

  • A sense of Englishness: British Fashion through the ages.
  • Mods and Rockers and the age of the motorbike.
  • Age of Liberalism: 1920’s fashions.
  • Fashions of The Second World War.
  • Fifties fashions on the streets today.
  • The Sixties: Flowers, flares, and fun.
  • A discussion of seventies fashion icons and what they brought to the fashion world.
  • How Eighties fashions represented political and cultural ideals of the time.
  • Young people’s clothing in the Nineties.
  • Chasing an illusive dream? Fashions of the future.
  • Royal Clothing and the Identities of Monarchs across the World.
  • ‘The Cobbler and the Tailor': Forgotten trades.
  • A chronological study of men’s fashion since 1700.
  • What we still love about Dickensian fashion.
  • Material marriages: The origins and history of the English wedding dress.
  • The symbolic aspects of Greco-Roman fashions.
  • Ethnic clothing in London; markets and bazaars.
  • How important was fashion to the Tudors and Stuarts?
  • A History of peasant costume.
  • Fools and jesters through the ages.
  • A history of women’s shoes.
  • Retro is all the rage: A discussion of the influences of retro fashions on today’s fashion industry.
  • The advent of Primark: Affordable fashion.

Clothing, Leisure and Place
Contemporary styles have both diversified and limited traditional looks.  For example, fur has gone out of fashion to the extent of being illegal, while tartans remain ever as fashionable as they always have done.  Regional styles are interesting to study as they can be effectively compared across the country, e.g.: Rural/Urban wear.  Fashion has been intrinsically linked to leisure for centuries – especially through mediums such as the theatre and sports.  Within this relationship exists a complex and powerful history of changing cultural tastes and beliefs.  Why do we wear certain items of clothing in certain places or for certain activities?  What would happen if we didn’t?  Why do we need to conform?  These are the sorts of questions explored in the following subjects:

  • Sports Clothing: How sportswear has infiltrated the contemporary market
  • Labelling and branding: The power of representation
  • The power of marketing in the contemporary fashion world
  • Clothes for clubbers: The use of alternative materials
  • Tartans today: How colours represent ideas
  • Tracing the history of fur in fashion
  • Hunting wear: Stigmas and tradition
  • Shakespearian theatre and the aesthetic image
  • Translating Tolkien: Costume from book to screen
  • A history of the hat
  • Hats and the imagination: Magicians, witches and Ascot
  • Changing Times: The closing divide between rural and urban fashions over the last century
  • Wigs, rings, and tails: Symbols of power since 1700
  • Clothing of importance: The tuxedo and the suit since 1800
  • Sci-Fi culture and fashion
  • Water and fashion: Swimwear early to contemporary
  • The evolution of the ball gown

Children’s Clothing
Children’s fashion has an incredibly imaginative and diverse market.  On the more affordable end of the scale second-hand clothing shops are very popular as children outgrow clothes so readily that very good condition and even new items can be bought at low prices.  At the other end of the scale designer children’s clothing can be extremely expensive and affords a competitive market.  More than any other types of Western clothing, children’s fashion incorporates emblematic and symbolic imagery – especially relating to fairytale, folk-lore and hero worship.  Beneath are listed some key debates, ideas and discussions which would make enjoyable and challenging research topics:

  • The essence of the fairytale: Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and the fashionable imagination.
  • What is too short?  A critical analysis of debates surrounding promiscuity and children’s clothing.
  • Superheroes: Symbolism and representation in fantastic fashions.
  • Halloween: Fashion and the children’s’ imagination.
  • Baby Boom: Post-war culture and baby fashion.
  • Everyone else is doing it so why can’t We?: An Investigation into the effects of fashion advertising on children.
  • Returning to nature: The use of natural-world emblems and symbols in contemporary fashion.
  • ‘All the colours of the rainbow': Exploring why colour matters to fashion.
  • The origin of the motif.
  • Chains, T-Shirts, and baggy trousers: The meaning of skateboard culture.
  • Alice In Wonderland: The decline of the dress in girl’s fashion.
  • Fairies and Pixies: Casting a spell on the creative imagination.

Sex, Body, and Presentation
The image of the body is pivotal to our understanding of the fashion world.  This area of research is one of the most popular and contemporary topics – what might be described as ‘cutting edge’.  Often involving the complex interplay between perception of self and others, our understanding of image is closely associated with the media.  Powerful presentation is key to the appreciation of the aesthetic image, and the media has had a very important role to play in promoting and shaping body image over the last fifty years.  This is a challenging and interesting area to study, and offers the potential to use a wide range of research methods, such as interview and ethnographic research.

  • The origins of power dressing.
  • Gender representation in men and women’s fashions since the Fifties.
  • Adoration and adornment: A critical analysis of the meaning of body art and piercing in western societies.
  • The place of fetish wears in contemporary fashion.
  • Fashion and religion: An inquiry into the debates surrounding acceptable dress.
  • Hair and makeup: Do we really need it?
  • Cross-dressing since the Victorians.
  • Reality and the subversive: The use of mannequins and models since the Sixties.
  • The importance of presentation: Catwalks, lights and cameras.
  • Sex, gender and the body in the media.
  • Power, Status, Ambition: An analysis of what clothing represents.
  • Exploring the relationship between nudists and fashion.
  • The habit of a lifetime: Dressing monks and nuns through the ages.
  • Trinny, Susannah, and looking good naked.

Material and Designs
Design is an integral area of study in culture and fashion as it is constantly subject to change and reflects current tastes and cultural trends.  Some designs and materials – such as denim jeans – have a durable marketability, often reflecting retro trends, whereas public service wear – such as flame retardant clothing for firemen – often has to reflect current developments in technology regarding health and safety.  The following list is especially useful for students looking for less abstract, more tangible dissertation topics:

  • A history of the undergarment
  • PVC:  Uses and connotations
  • Fashion and manmade materials
  • The wool trade and its contribution to western fashion
  • The history and importance of the bodice
  • The eras of the miniskirt
  • Public service wear and changing roles
  • Materials that matter: An analysis of the changing uses of materials since the 19th Century
  • Wool and its uses; from Prehistoric to today
  • The dawn of nylon and what it meant for Fifties fashion
  • Is it Fair-trading? Cotton and hemp production and its place in British shops
  • Current debates surrounding the popularity of leather
  • Just what is it about shoes? An ethnographic study into women’s and men’s love of shoes.

 

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