As fashion studies grows as an academic field, researchers are experimenting outside of conventional methodological boundaries. New projects have incorporated the same creative mediums used by the fashion system for research generation and dissemination. From street style (see LUVAAS in this issue) to co-designing garments (LAPOLLA & SANDERS 2015), this new wave marks a different approach from earlier fashion studies methods. Past work stayed true to traditions within specific disciplines. Historians used archival methods, sociologists used interviews, and cultural studies researchers used semiotics and discourse analysis. To have their work taken seriously by the academy, these scholars could only play so much. Methodological experimentation was beyond the realm of innovation because it was already revolutionary to explore the devalued and stigmatized topic of fashion. Yet these first fashion studies scholars made fashion a legitimate and compelling field of study and set the foundation for the methodological revolution that we are seeing today. This article contributes to the emerging dialogue on methodology in fashion studies (see GRANATA, 2012; JENSS, 2016). It was originally published in the multilingual, open access journal Forum: Qualitative Social Research — one of the first open access journals founded in 1999 — to engage scholars beyond our field in fashion as both a topic and method of inquiry. I am republishing the article in Fashion Studies to spark dialogue among my peers about new methodological approaches. I hope that this article will inspire fashion studies scholars to consider the potential of using the fashion arts in their research, and to then use this journal to share the opportunities and challenges that come with these new methodological experiments. My article evaluates the process of using the fashion show as a mode of dissemination in research on men, masculinities, and fashion. I ground my work in arts-informed methodology, an emerging paradigm in which researchers infuse the arts — alongside traditional qualitative methods — during data collection and/or analysis and/or dissemination (COLES & KNOWLES, 2008a). While arts-informed methodology has primarily been linked to qualitative research, its approach has been used by fashion studies scholars outside of the social sciences — even though they do not name it directly. Fashion historians, for instance, curate exhibitions to emotionally, sensorially, and accessibily disseminate their work to diverse audiences (see AYRES in this issue). Yet the potential and power of arts-informed methodology in fashion studies lies not in infusing an array of arts into our research, but instead in specifically incorporating fashion arts into our research design from the beginning of our projects. Designing clothing, taking photographs, and performing fashion shows extends our research from analyzing and critiquing the fashion system to producing counter-cultural artifacts based on our analysis and critiques. In this way, we not only question fashion culture but materially generate a new fashion culture through our research projects. Incorporating diverse sources of primary data, methods, and methodologies aligns with what GRANATA (2012) calls the “in-betweenness,” “multi-methodological,” and “inter-media” nature of fashion studies in which no one source is privileged but instead diverse ways of knowing are valued and combined.
Executing arts-informed research might make some fashion studies scholars nervous. Like myself, many of us have no formal training in materially designing and making. Rather than dissuade our creative engagement, arts-informed methodology is an invitation to collaborate with creative, design, and practice-based scholars. We can reach across departmental and faculty lines to co-dream, co-create, and co-work with faculty and students whose expertise and practice are different from our own, yet also simultaneously and intimately connected through fashion. These collaborations not only expand the possibilities of research and enhance our learning, but also help us realize the aims of many universities and funding organizations to develop research that connect theory and practice and reach multiple audiences. We started this journal, in part, as a platform to share this type of collaborative work that honours diverse ways of knowing and sharing that knowledge. Fashion Studies bridges writing and making, theory and practice, and seeks to reimagine the fashion system. Arts-informed research that incorporates theory, data, and writing alongside the design of clothing, editorials, and fashion shows brings these too often siloed research and creative approaches together and introduces new fashion artifacts and images into the system.