What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos


Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers


Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge


Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more

Fashion Conscious: Susan J. Vincent’s The Anatomy of Fashion

May 14, 2010, 1:38 AM

 “Every generation is born to this same anatomical legacy; how they then fashion it with clothing is, in miniature, the story of culture,” argues Susan J. Vincent in her sweeping study, The Anatomy of Fashion: Dressing the Body from the Renaissance to Today. Clothing not only makes the man and woman, but also makes the spirit of each age. Rather than simply covering over our bodies, fashion reveals our innermost soul. Vincent takes the undervalued art of sartorial adornment and raises it to the level of its sister arts. The Anatomy of Fashion proves that there’s nothing frivolous about fashion when seen through the proper prism.

Vincent excels at breaking through the barriers commonly set against fashion as a serious art form. “In contrast to the art, music and literature of our cultural heritage, the clothing renders its wearers somehow less intelligent, less rational, less sexy, less like us,” Vincent explains. “I want to examine historical fiction and try to understand it on its own terms and within the context of its own chronological moment.” Laugh at the garb of your parents’ generation at your own peril, she maintains, for one day that laughter will strike at the look of your heyday and you too will know the pain of misunderstanding. “Clothes are everywhere in history, but comments on them tend to be piecemeal and fleeing,” Vincent adds, subtly hinting at the frustration she experienced in culling together material for her narrative. Yet, Vincent gathers enough sartorial lore to string together a compelling narrative that hangs as simply and beautifully as a pearl necklace.

Vincent literally works from the head down, devoting chapters to head and neck, breasts and waist, hips and bottom, genitals and legs, and skin, in that order. Once she picks a location, she surrounds it with detail and fascinating juxtapositions of time and place. Her vivid prose brings the past alive in passages such as:

 “It was the nineteenth century, somewhere around its middle years; the men were correct and dark figured, the ladies rustled and swayed at their sides, their brilliant skirts blooming like huge exotic flowers. For this was the age of the iridescent aniline dye, and the vast crinoline skirt that billowed and floated above its steel cage structure.”

Everything from powdered wigs to women’s corsets and their male counterparts, the doublet, find a place in Vincent’s tableau of fashion as an emblem of time and the evolution of culture. The idea that the ridiculously billowing gowns of the Elizabethans did not so much isolate women’s bodies as much as they extended them and, by extension, created additional opportunities for close encounters with the opposite sex, turns on its head every notion we may have of the stodgy people of the past. By looking at the clothes, Vincent makes us see the bodies of our ancestors. Whalebone corsets take on an entirely new dimension when you consider the impassioned hearts that once beat within them.

Even the classic conundrum of fashion, “Does my bum look big in this?” takes on a new meaning. “For most of the time from the start of the sixteenth century to the opening years of the twentieth,” Vincent shows, “the answer would have been a glorious, resounding and opulent yes.” The Anatomy of Fashion is a glorious, resounding, and opulent “yes” to the untapped energy of seeing fashion as a cultural artifact of the utmost intimacy.

 [Many thanks to Berg Publishers for providing me with a review copy of Susan J. Vincent’s The Anatomy of Fashion: Dressing the Body from the Renaissance to Today.]


Fashion Conscious: Susan J....

Newsletter: Share: