Because this is Valerie Steele's second book on the topic of fetishistic clothing, her opening statements that she is an outsider to the paraphilias and perversions that she discusses seems a bit hollow. When she says that she is only "a cultural historian specializing in fashion" there's no need to fear: while the book is rigorously researched and loaded with valuable bibliographic references to previous researchers in the area, it's apparent that underneath her cool prose Steele really gets a kick out of her subject, if only on an intellectual level. Dividing her book into sections based on the various fetishes (corsets, shoes, second-skin fabrics, underwear), Steele shows a remarkable facility with the history and trivia of each item of clothing. This produces some amusing juxtapositions, such as when she reveals little-known information about the Chinese practice of footbinding, and a page later presents a Tom of Finland picture of a nude man surrounded by motorcycle-booted feet. There are plenty of drawings and photographs here, ostensibly to supplement the reading. Photos range from 19th-century Viennese ultra-high-heeled shoes to contemporary neo- gothic hipster chicks in corsets and leather. This is obviously not a book for children, but it's also far more than a collection of erotica in that it presents an informative and well-researched history of fetishism and the theories that have been put forward to explain it.
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From Publishers Weekly
Drawing on psychoanalytic, poststructuralist, feminist and Marxist theory, cultural historian Steele (Fashion and Eroticism) explores the role fetishist sexual practices play in shaping fashion history. She asserts that fashion trends both reflect common sexual fantasies and help construct gender identities; in this sense, clothing can function as an important marker of a culture's sexual politics. The fascination with fetishist garb?corsets, underwear as outerwear, the use of "kinky" fabrics like rubber and leather?among prominent contemporary designers may, she proposes, signal our own culture's willingness to blur the boundaries between the "normal" and the "perverse." Steele puts forward a fluid definition of fetishism, noting that its devotees exhibit a wide range of behaviors and that one particular style or object can have a variety of different meanings for different people. Consequently, psychoanalytic arguments that the fetish is always a stand-in for the phallus or feminist claims that certain fashions like corsets and high heels are intended to oppress women are potentially valid but reductive. Steele's greatest strengths here are her flexible perspective and her deft negotiation of various theoretical perspectives. Her analysis is sometimes sketchy, but this is a thought-provoking overview of the relationship between sex and clothing. Photos not seen by PW.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.