Reviewed October 2019
Subject Librarian, The New School
The Fashion History Timeline is an evolving open-access resource for professional, emerging, and casual researchers “interested in fashion and dress history. With over 200 pages devoted to decades of fashion history, films, garments, and artworks, the Fashion History Timeline’s goal is to host a wide breadth of detailed and accurate information in a central, public space. While the resource has great potential, its current iteration is incomplete, tertiary, and it is not yet suitable for scholarly use.
The Timeline has well-regarded co-directors and a prominent advisory board, but the actual authorship of the website is more vague. Of the sixteen co-directors, project team members, participating faculty, and advisory board, only two have contributed to the authorship of the website. Of the 242 pages of the Timeline, only eighteen have been authored by its co-directors and board members. A majority of the pages have been authored by “FIT Student,” which “represents the anonymous and/or collaborative work of FIT students enrolled in History of Art courses.” This information indicates that the Timeline is primarily being used as a pedagogical tool for FIT students, rather than as an expertly-authored information hub. Although not the initial goal, this is a legitimate alternative use of the website, and it would benefit researchers of all levels if this information was acknowledged in the About page.
One of the easiest ways to navigate the Timeline is by time period, where the 15th-20th centuries are broken down by decade; but, the seamless way one navigates the website only exacerbates the inconsistency of its current content. For example, the majority of the 16th-century pages are written meticulously by co-director Justine DeYoung and reference a century’s worth of reliable scholarship, while the entirety of the 17th-century is written by “FIT Student” and references only Wikipedia.
Despite the inconsistency of the time period entries, the “Essays” section is where the Timeline truly shines. The Film Analyses section include well-researched sections on period fashion, costume design and designers, historical accuracy, and influence on subsequent trends. The Thematic Essays are detailed overviews written by scholars with authority on their chosen topic. The Year Overviews offer acute analyses of images and documents from each authored year. All essays reference reliable resources, are informative and concise, and have clear authorship. It is unfortunate that not only is this the least populated area of the Timeline, but there is also no indication of peer-review that would allow other scholars to reliably cite these sources in further research.
The Dictionary is another strength of the Timeline. Written by a mix of anonymous “FIT Student” and distinct authors, the Dictionary offers brief, yet thorough descriptions and images of accessories, garments, and garment pieces, which may help researchers discover and utilize searchable key-terms. There is potential for confusion surrounding different taxonomies, spelling, and vocabulary, but this is currently handled well with the separate pages for the Gigot Sleeve and Leg-of-Mutton Sleeve, for example.
It is imperative to remember that the Timeline is a work-in-progress. According to the "About" page and the Timeline’s blog, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation supported a major redesign of the Timeline’s website; the ongoing development of decade overviews of Western fashion from the 15th-18th centuries honors the Kress Foundation’s priorities. This explains the Timeline's proclivity toward white, Euro-American dress history; expanding the site's focus to be more inclusive is a necessary future improvement.
At the time of this review, the Essays and Dictionary sections of the Fashion History Timeline are the only reliable resources for researchers and casual readers. A large number of the Timeline’s history pages, however, lack meaningful information and cite other tertiary sources, such as Wikipedia and Pinterest. If the Timeline shifts into a teaching tool rather than an information center, it is imperative that information literacy and citation practices are included in the curriculum. It is evident that the Timeline has incredible potential based on the quality of the Essays, Dictionary, and the 16th-century pages authored by DeYoung, but it will need to continually expand or evolve for the benefit of the readers it inspires.