Art Historical Sartorialism

This summer, I’m teaching an undergraduate course on 19th & 20th century art history and having a wonderful time putting together lectures that weave together key moments in these two centuries of major change. What I’m also having fun with, naturally, is my wardrobe. For a full week’s worth of lectures, I dressed in theme to the topics of the day.


First off was impressionism, when I took inspiration from Monet and Cassatt in this me-made linen top and striped skirt made from an old dress. I never would have thought to pair this combination together if I hadn’t been working on a theme, but I love it!


The next day we talked about the Aesthetic Movement and Art Nouveau, and I took the opportunity to look to the soft colors and frothy textures of John Singer Sargent’s portraits of society women. This silk top is from Anthropologie and the trousers are my trusty Winslow Culottes in the lightest chambray.


Next up we jumped into the 20th century, and I went with the linear abstractions of Mondrian on top and splashy color reminiscent of my faves, the German expressionists, on bottom, both RTW.


Finally, we hit abstraction and minimalism, and I couldn’t resist this op-art-esque dress, paired with a monochrome cardigan, both RTW. After that, we moved into conceptual art and performance, both more difficult to dress for (at least appropriately for class) — but believe me, I’m brainstorming!

The fun part? I’m teaching this class again in the spring, spread out over a full semester instead of four weeks, which means even more opportunities for theme dressing! I’ve been thinking of what things I could make. There’s of course the classic Mondrian shift dress, but I don’t love shifts for myself.

Drapey neoclassical dresses are ideal for lounging and eating grapes in, but less so for the classroom. Something more modern with a classical-inspired twist would do me just fine, though, and I could see getting a lot of use out of a dress like McCall’s 7429.


Trying to dress like the Romantics, on the other hand, has me dying for a good bishop’s sleeve. Any of these would make me happy; it’s just a matter of finding a properly dramatic print in a flowy fabric. (Simplicity 8013, Vogue 9076, and Seamwork Arden)

One dress I definitely do want to make, though, is something out of this amazing Anna Atkins cyanotype-inspired fabric. For some reason, I’m feeling it in a cocoon-y dress, maybe the Kielo Wrap Dress? I’m apprehensive about how it’s going to fit on my body, but I have liked the versions I’ve seen other folks stitch up.

On a blue note, I’m also thinking I certainly need something in Yves Klein blue (I don’t love him, but I do love his blue!) I don’t wear too many angular, structured things, but I’m very into V9079.

The Surrealists are harder, unless I just full-on dress in a Dali print. But what about a simple dress with a fur collar as a hat-tip to Meret Oppenheim?

That’s all I’ve come up with so far! But I would love to brainstorm thoughts — what art inspires your sewing?

20 thoughts on “Art Historical Sartorialism

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  1. What a great way to bring art history into your classroom AND everyday life! I’ve been using art nouveau and art deco aesthetics in my artwork and paper-crafting a lot lately so I’m about to order some stunning wallpaper samples from Bradbury & Bradbury Art Wallpaper. They have fabric and lace as well so I wanted to share with you! Perhaps it will inspire you:


  2. My favorite professor in college used to dress to match his lectures, so you should absolutely see if you can carry it through a whole semester.


    1. I love that! I would like to, though I admit to feeling a little stumped once I get to conceptual and performance art. It’s hard when there aren’t any immediate visual references!


  3. I LOVE this! You could argue that this whole procedure IS conceptual art, maybe? Or how about making one of those costumes like they do for Broadway shows where you tear the top down and it becomes the skirt of a second costume? Like this

    Ok maybe not…

    OR what about a dress with embellishments in the shape of another dress on the front? Or something like this (I’m maybe a little obsessed with this dress already though) or with the definition of ‘dress’ embroidered on. That last one doesn’t quite work. Or buy a fancy print and then bleach it out and then make something with that? Or you could cut out a dress, ship it to someone else who sews one seam and then ships it to someone else, sews one seam, so on and so forth.

    Ok I’m having way too much fun now.


  4. Such fun! You could look at Magritte for surrealist clothing, perhaps a sky blue dress with a lacy (cloudy) white collar paired with a bowler hat?


  5. This is so fun! The whole series counts as performance art imho, so you could mention it then, and incidentally see how many students noticed what you were doing. Show up in paint-splattered overalls. Or an Isadora Duncan knit bag and speak from inside?

    I love your fur collar idea, as I also adore that Meret Oppenheim piece. And I hope you wear your strawberry thief shirt when discussing aestheticism! Although to do that one right you’d need some matching velvet knickers, and maybe a fake fur vest. A hat with a peacock feather? A second shirt in a Liberty peacock print??


    1. I love all of these ideas!!! I’m teaching Arts & Crafts/Aestheticism on Monday, and you better believe the Strawberry Thief shirt is already ready to go. It could definitely use a velvet blazer or a fur vest, though. I am pairing it with a pin I have of an Aubrey Beardsley print, though, so I’m getting there! I’m leaning towards all black plus a piece of jewelry with scissors for performance art day, to reference Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece, but I still feel like that’s too subtle, haha. Thank you!


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