Denis Bruna will deliver a Françoise and Georges Selz Lecture on Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century French Decorative Arts and Culture on Tuesday, April 19 at 6 pm. His talk is entitled “Mistake or Transgression? A History of Scandalous Clothing.”

Denis Bruna is Curator of the pre-nineteenth-century textile and fashion collections at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs. He is also a Professor and the Director of Research in the History of Fashion, Costume, and Textiles at the École du Louvre. His research focuses on the history and iconography of the costume, dress, and customs of the body. He has published several books and curated the exhibitions Fashioning Fashion: Two Centuries of European Fashion 1700–1915 (2012) and La Mécanique des dessous, une histoire indiscrète de la silhouette (2013), which was on exhibit at Bard Graduate Center last spring under the title Fashioning the Body: An Intimate History of the Silhouette. He received his PhD in History from the University of Paris I Panthéon-Sorbonne.

In this talk, Bruna will explore violations of dress codes and moral values in fashion from the sixteenth century to the present. The history of fashion and costume is studded with period “icons”: petticoat breeches, the robe volante, the shirt dress, the chemise à la grecque, female trousers, male skirts, the female tuxedo, the miniskirt, baggy trousers, and jeans, to name but a few. Although each became emblematic of the fashion of their moment, when these garments first appeared they were radically disruptive and sparked virulent criticism, even bans. These garments transgressed the established order—they were perceived as too short or too long, too close-fitting or too ample, too shameless or too covering, too feminine for a man or too masculine for a woman. They were criticised for deforming the body or for over-emphasizing its forms, for blurring the wearer’s sexual or gender identity, or simply for violating established conventions that imposed a certain dress while forbidding another. To explore these violations and their gradual acceptance, Bruna will survey a selection of characteristic clothing and accessories, drawing on portraits, caricatures, and advertisements, ranging from the royal courts to the street, and from the runway to magazines.