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A Short Course in Beauty & Death

Miss hitting the books? In this new occasional feature, your St. Norbert education continues as we profile a course or lecture taught by our own faculty. (And this time, there’s no final!)

The course description
THEA 237 History of Clothing & Fashion. This survey of the history of clothing and its relationship to culture and society familiarizes the student with period styles from pre-history to modern times. We look at historical, cultural, and societal reasons behind dress, and endeavor to always treat the people we study with respect. Lecture 8: Beauty & Death.

The classroom
Virtual. History of Clothing & Fashion is offered online as a J-term course. “There’s pressure to perform in the classroom that you don’t feel online. It’s challenging, because you don’t get to see the students face-to-face.”

The prof
April BeiswengerApril Beiswenger, associate professor of theatre arts, teaches theatrical design and technology. She earned an M.F.A. in theatrical design from West Virginia University and an M.A. in theatre arts from Villanova University. Beyond her theatre work, Beiswenger is a frequent exhibitor in the Godschalx Gallery on campus, where she explores the theatricality of art, as well as the joy of craft and communal making.

Making up is hard to do
In your makeup bag, in trace amounts:

  • Phthalates, disruptive to the endocrine system
  • Lead, dangerous to the female reproductive system
  • Formaldehyde, known as a carcinogen
  • Polyethylene glycol, known as a carcinogen
  • Butylated compounds, disruptive to the endocrine system and
    toxic to the organ system
  • Parabens, known as carcinogens

Sole survivor: deadly fashions for feet
Lotus Shoes
c. 950-1950
For feet deformed by Chinese footbinding.

“Stilts” to keep you out of the mud.

Extreme High Heels, Women
16th century
Catherine de Medici first appropriated the look for women.

Extreme High Heels, Men
18th century …
… until the French Revolution. This posh fashion tended to identify its wearers as from among the aristocracy, and was a step too close to the guillotine!

Platform Shoes
Heavy, clunky trip-hazards.

Ballet Boots
A new take on teetering by Alexander McQueen, British fashion designer.

The reading list
Exciting history:
“Corsets and Codpieces: A History of Outrageous Fashion, from Roman Times to the Modern Era”
Bowman, Karen (2015)

Equal parts fab and frightening:

“Killer Style: How Fashion Has Injured, Maimed, and Murdered Throughout History”
Matthews David, Alison and McMahon, Serah-Marie (2019)

Quick read on corsets:
“A Second Look at the Big Squeeze”
Ruark, Jennifer in Chronicle of Higher Education (2001)

The assignment
Choose one of the following and research how it is processed:

  • Leather
  • Cotton
  • Botox
  • Mascara
  • Tattoo Ink


Look through your closet and list everything you own.

March 17, 2020