Fashion, Disease & How We Talk About Pandemics

fashion death and disease

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Sara and Elise have had a long fascination with how questions about disease and the body intersect with fashion and consumer culture. In this corona/quarantine episode of Fashion Cats & Cocktails, they talk about the long-standing relationship between disease and fashion; the way illness functions in our cultural narratives, and explore the ways that public health has shaped our lives in the past and present.

Listen here or wherever you get your podcasts (Spotify, Stitcher, Apple, etc.)

Some of the articles and books we talk about

Patreon subscribers can access a complete reading list and discussion questions here.

We recorded this in the midst of a pandemic (and tipsy), so there were…some gaps. Like how our discussion of AIDS got sidetracked, and how we couldn’t remember that Beth dies of Scarlet Fever. But we also talked about some great essays and books, including these:

Here are two articles about the Victorian obsession with “Consumption Chic:” The Prettiest Way to Die by Christina Newland for LitHub and How Tuberculosis Shaped Victorian Fashion by Emily Mullin for Smithsonian.

This article makes us feel less alone in our confusion about Beth’s death in Little Women: “Why There’s So Much Confusion About What Happens to Beth,” by Jessica Rawden for Cinema Blend.

Fashion at the Edge by Caroline Evans is a great book that draws lines between 1990s fashion and obsessions with darkness and deathliness, AIDS, heroin chic, economic anxiety and Victoriana. (Remember how Rent rewrote La Boheme with AIDS instead of tuberculosis?)

The complete text of Susan Sontag’s classic, Illness as Metaphor

The reference to the “infection of the yellow band” or ruffs starched with yellow saffron in Early Modern England comes from Jones and Stallybrass, Renaissance England and the Materials of Memory.

The folks at On The Media talking about the role of war metaphors in public health crises.

Jeremy Gordon writing about the empty pleasure of Tiger King for The Outline (Which was recently dumped by its owners, Bustle Media Group. Rest in Peace, The Outline 😿).

A snippet about Lysol’s “germ fighting” marketing during and after World War II.

Sara’s essay for Catapult about housecoats past and present to inspire your Work From Home wardrobe (if you’re lucky enough to be working from home!).

And for more fashion responses to COVID-19, check out Clarisse Pillard’s rumination on her experience in France, “I Went for a Walk and Left My Mask in My Pocket” and Erika Veurink on “Dystopian Movies, Real Crises, and How to Dress for the End of the World.”

And we’ll leave you with this kind of amazing wartime ad for douching with Lysol. 

Lysol douche ad. An example of disease metaphors.
From Movie Story Magazine, March 1943

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