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Food, Fashion and Culture

The relationship between fashion and food is deliciously complex: Katy Perry’s fun Moschino Met Gala after-party burger dress coexists alongside enduring accusations that the fashion industry perpetuates disordered eating habits, both for models and consumers. Food and fashion both appeal to consumers through narratives of evanescent desirability, so when the industries join forces, the influence on culture can be colossal. We have brought together some key resources from across the Bloomsbury Food Library that explore how food and fashion can coalesce to create an amuse bouche of cultural delight.

Patrick Kelly, spring 1988 runway show, Paris. Photo by PL Gould/IMAGES/Getty Images
Photo by PL Gould via Getty Images

The African Diaspora in Food and Fashion

Food and Fashion (2023) examines how fashion and food have been utilised to express cultural movements across centuries, through beautiful full-colour images, captivating case studies and written scholarship. In this chapter, Elizabeth Way explores how cuisines that connect Black people to their African and diasporic culture have shaped the global fashion landscape. It includes a detailed taste of the monumental work of designer Patrick Kelly, who “used his fashion practice to explore and recontextualize controversial images of Blackness”, and tucks into the work of Stella Jean, who regularly partners with indigenous artisans to produce materials for collections inspired by African culture.

English model Twiggy in a mini-dress, London, 6 August 1966. (Photo by Popperfoto via Getty Images/Getty Images.)
Photo by Popperfoto via Getty Images

Ideal Bodies and the Cult of Slenderness

In Gastrofashion from Haute Cuisine to Haute Couture (2022), Geczy and Karaminas trace the relationship of food and fashion back to the Middle Ages. They explore the origins of the current appeal of linking fashion and food, demonstrating how food and fashion are increasingly marketed in tandem to reinforce each object’s capitalist power. Food has long been a means to express social prestige, with the code fluctuating between thinness and plumpness, depending on the historical context. This chapter debates whether the fashion industry has really been able to rid itself of ‘the cult of slenderness’, “an ideology that places the shape of a slender body at a premium in ideal body images of men and women.”

Women’s Dinner Dress designed by Elsa Schiaparelli, February 1937. Printed silk on organza, synthetic horsehair. Gift of Mme Elsa Schiaparelli, 1969. Made in Paris, France. (Philadelphia Museum of Art.)
Philadelphia Museum of Art

Fashion, Food and Art

For hundreds of years consumers and scholars alike have acknowledged that food is affected by the same rapid shifts in taste as clothing; just like fashion, food is consumed and sold as a fashionable commodity. Yet despite this, the reciprocal relationship between fashion and food has not been fully explored – until now. This chapter from Gastrofashion from Haute Cuisine to Haute Couture (2022) documents the intimate relationship between fashion, food and art through analysis of some of the most iconic art and fashion crossovers, such as Elsa Schiaperelli’s Dali inspired eccentric Lobster Dress, worn by Wallis Simpson, and later by Anna Wintour. Also under the spotlight is Lady Gaga’s 2010 MTV Awards protest meat dress.

Top Hat Restaurant menu
Culinary Arts Museum at Johnson & Wales University

Taste, Food and Fashion

The Invention of Taste (2016) provides a detailed overview of the development of taste, from ancient times to the present. At the heart of the book is an intriguing question: why did the sensory attribute of human taste become a social metaphor and aesthetic value for judging cultural qualities of art, fashion, cuisine and other social constructions? This chapter examines how the intertwined phenomena of haute cuisine and haute couture flourished in Paris, and became “commercial formulas” for cultivating ‘impure tastes’ — passion for the vices of gluttony and vanity. Luca Vercelloni argues that food and fashion embrace the ephemeral, and are able to construct "widespread and highly influential forms of self-image”, despite being transient commodities. For style to have bite, both in the kitchen and the on the runway, it must be inherently unstable and shifting.

Photo of the legs of a cowboy (Pixabay)

Using Animals For Clothing And Textiles

On Animals: Volume Two (2018), presents an authoritative and comprehensive survey of human practice in relation to other animals. David Clough focuses on the use of animals for human clothing, and proposes that harming the welfare of animals in this way does not align with Christian values. Through a survey of the diverse animals used in clothing, including kangaroos to silk worms, this chapter argues against the proposal that using animal material avoids waste within the food industry. Leather and wool contribute to the profits of the meat industry, and cannot be viewed as by-products. Slaughtering animals to create luxury fashion items is interpreted to be even more reprehensible in a Christian framework, with absolutely nothing to balance the prima facie wrong of killing a fellow creature.

The book cover of Why Food Matters

Author in Focus: Melissa L. Caldwell

Melissa L. Caldwell is Professor of Anthropology at the University of California at Santa Cruz, USA, and is a well-known voice in the field of food studies. A member of the Bloomsbury Food Library’s own Editorial Advisory Board, Caldwell is an expert on food, poverty and welfare in Russia and the formerly Soviet world, and was the sole editor of Gastronomica: The Journal of Critical Food Studies until 2019. Click here to discover the works by Melissa L. Caldwell, which are made digitally available through the Bloomsbury Food Library.

What is food and why does it matter? This is the vital topics addressed in Caldwell’s Why Food Matters: Critical Debates in Food Studies (2021). Bringing together the most innovative, cutting-edge scholarship and debates, this reader provides an excellent introduction to the rapidly growing discipline of food studies. Covering a wide range of theoretical perspectives and disciplinary approaches, it challenges common ideas about food and identifies emerging trends which will define the field for years to come. In this chapter, Caldwell looks at the digestive politics in Russia.

As well as writing and editing a number of monographs, Caldwell has contributed to other fey works within the field of food studies, such as The Handbook of Food and Anthropology (2016). Caldwell’s article “Practising Food Anthropology” discusses the value of ethnographic studies of food to the corporate food world, the types of new methods that are being developed, the ethical quandaries provoked by these collaborations, and possibilities for new ways of doing anthropology.

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Homepage image credit: Moschino Ambiance RTW Fall 2020, photographed in Milan on Feb 20, 2020. (Photo by Swan Gallet/WWD/Penske Media via Getty Images)