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Fetish: Fashion, Sex & Power Hardcover

ISBN-13: 978-0195090444 ISBN-10: 0195090446

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA (January 4, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195090446
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195090444
  • Product Dimensions: 10.3 x 7.2 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,145,041 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 20, 1999
Format: Paperback
Steele's book is thoroughly researched and does an excellent job of placing fetish fashion in a historical context. What the author fails to do, however, is make a clear argument. When she states that she cannot claim to be for or against a particular piece of clothing (in this case, the corset), her well-crafted "neutral" stance weakens the very course of her history. As Steele demonstrates, each article of clothing featured in her book has a complex cultural and intellectual history imbedded with meaning. By refusing to go beyond, "feminists believe..." or "Freud argued...," the purpose of Steele's glossy work remains obscured. Moreover, the author's overuse of quotations further confuses the argument. I was lost between Steele's words and those of her sources and find that her failure to truly engage with her research rings of a forced objectivity.
My second objection is perhaps not a new criticism. I tend to cringe when I hear that the combination of being sexy and powerful rescues woman from the bad old days of obligatory femininity. Steele implies this by refusing to take a stance. The strong, yet sexy, woman remains a male fantasy. After all, the corset-clad, high-heel wearing dominatrix acts out the role to please her slave. She is there to help him live out his fantasies. Her pleasure (and this is generally the case whether the woman is dominant or submissive) tends to remain secondary. Steele's modern fetish woman gains pleasure from being pleasing to men and power from being sexually desirable. I would have liked the author to examine this issue further and even to deconstruct it.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 18, 1999
Format: Paperback
A very well-written and -researched essay whose clarity and wit is all the more remarkable for its breadth of subject matter (fetish and fashion, along with all the psychology, sociology, sexuality, feminism, etc. that they entail) and the high degree of subjectivity authors usually bring to that subject matter. Steele's writing is observant, engaging, stylish and piercingly critical--she gains much credibility in my mind by debunking the corset myth, for example. One flaw is that the wide implications of the subject matter often lead her off on tangents. It often takes her some time--in some cases, the entire book--to fully elucidate her points. You have to trust her to explain everything in the end--a trust which is largely well-placed.
Oddly, the largest overarching theory about the connection between obscure fetish gear and high fashion is left implicit in a "perhaps. . ." phrase at the end. That theory is that most behaviors and interests previously thought perverse are being accepted into the mainstream as our society becomes ever more leisure-oriented and pleasure-based. Also unresolved is why fetishism seems to be largely Western and modern--is this a function of social organization, the definition of "fetishism", new sex research, sexual liberation, mass-media communication, all of these? There's an interesting correlation here with the equally culture-specific and modern outbursts of schizophrenia and serial killing (killers who are of course sexually motivated, highly perverse and often fetishistic). This is a query of high social concern, and I'm now more convinced of the role of the mass media--fetishism requires visual stimulation, Steele says, and there's more of that in a wider variety of subject matter than ever before.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 3, 2003
Format: Paperback
overall this book is very good, however it leaves out some important elements of fetishism and fetish culture. It pin points important elements of fetish and fashion, while skimming over the importance of emotions, trust, childhood,sex, power. When Steele addresses sex and power she uses a freudian approach. this is simply because steele's educational backround is limited to maintinly fasion history.
The book is complete with fetish photos, and describes the history and evoltion of the fetish well. Steele, describes one fetish party that she has attended and makes assumptions about fetishes, however i find it difficult to fully accept her conclusions due to her limited exposure. She does not accuratly address the role of fetishism in the gay and lesbian and bisexual community, but rather sticks to trannies and crossdressers. Futhermore, much of the evidence that she uses to explain fetishes is based on biological sex and gender roles. Both of which i would argue are downplayed among those who are open minded enough to participate in fetish culture.
This book is very well written and hard to put down. The book is well edited and well sectioned to keep you entertained and statisfied. It great book for someone who wants a brief and PG 13 explaination of fetishism-- for someone who knows little about the history of fetishims--or for your slightly kinky friend. Please keep in mind that Steele looks at fetishes from a fashion perspective--if you are looking for a more indept explaination of fetish culture you wil left, without it
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 16, 1997
Format: Paperback
_Fetish: Fashion, Sex & Power_ examines a number
of fetishes, their histories, and their influence
on mainstream fashion. Some of the fetishes
described include shoes, corsetting, latex, and
leather.

The author does a nice job of debunking some

myths and uncovering the roots of each practice.

Many of the photographs are provocative, but not

overly obscene. Overall, an interesting look at

the influence of "fringe" dressing on mainstream

fashion.
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