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Fetish: Fashion, Sex and Power [Hardcover]

Valerie Steele
2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

7 Dec 1995
This study analyzes the relationship between fashion and fetishism. Treating fashion as a symbolic system linked to the expression of sexuality, it marshals an array of evidence from pornography, psychology and historical literature to illuminate this relationship. Is it fashion or fetish when fashion magazines feature the straps and stilettos of the dominatrix? Is the corset, whether worn by men or women, a "style" or a "perversion"? The author charts the boundaries of the "normal" and the "perverse", and shows how even the most bizarre-seeming clothing fetishes enable their wearers to use clothing to express their social and sexual identities.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 252 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press Inc; First Printing edition (7 Dec 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195090446
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195090444
  • Product Dimensions: 26.1 x 18.4 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 836,531 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Kinky boots, corsets, underwear as outerwear, second-skin garments of rubber and leather, uniforms, body piercing. Today everything from a fetishist's dream appears on the fashion runways. Although some people regard fetish fashion as exploitative and misogynistic, others interpret it as a positive Amazonian statement—couture Catwoman. But the connection between fashion and fetishism goes far beyond a few couture collections. For the past thirty years, the iconography of sexual fetishism has been increasingly assimilated into popular culture. Before Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman, there was Mrs. Peel, heroine of the 1960s television show "The Avengers," who wore a black leather catsuit modeled on a real fetish costume. Street styles like punk and the gay "leatherman" look also testify to the influence of fetishism.
as interviews with individuals involved in sexual fetishism, sadomasochism, and cross-dressing, to illuminate the complex relationship between appearance and identity. Based on years of research, Fetish: Fashion, Sex & Power explains how a paradigm shift in attitudes toward sex and gender has given rise to the phenomenon of fetish fashion.

Providing provocative answers to such questions as: Why is black regarded as the sexiest color? Is fetishizing the norm for males? Does fetish fashion reflect a fear of AIDS? And why do so many people love shoes? Steel shows how human sexuality is never just a matter of doing what comes naturally; fantasy always plays an important role. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

About the Author

Steele is to fetish dressing what Anne Rice is to vampires. (Christa Worthington, Elle) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
"How can you write about fetishism if you aren't into it?" asked the tight-laced dominatrix. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting 12 July 2005
By A Customer
Nice introduction to the world of fetishm. The other review claims that the book is utter non-sense, some quasi-analytucal mumbo jumbo. I do not share this view as in my opinion the book does not really touch the topic deep enough. However, for anyone interested in learning about the world of fetishm, this is a really helpful intro.
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2.0 out of 5 stars A missed opportunity 14 July 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a disappointing book. With Valerie Steele's credentials as a fashion commentator and an academic, you might well suppose that the book would examine the influences of the fetish world on everyday fashion. Sadly, there is very little here in the way of analysis or examination. Steele seems to have no great arguments or theories and the book presents nothing in the way of a case to explain anything much. The author has clearly done an awful lot of homework, and read widely around the subject, as the impressive notes and bibliography demonstrate. But quotes from other authors are trotted out, not in the defence of any argument on her part, but almost gratuitously.

The book is divided into some promising chapters, asking, What is Fetish? (which turns out to be deeply dull) and then looking at various clothing fetishes, from corsets to shoes, to underwear and second skin (leather and rubber). Sadly, these chapters devote much time to quotes from contributors to old fetish magazines, which are purely anecdotal and not remotely interesting. There are no original interviews with some of the designers who have worked in this fashion area, such as Thierry Mugler, Versace, Gaultier et al, to probe what their real motivations have been. And there is little attempt to try to dig beneath the surface to find out why some of these fashion ideas have been adopted by the mainstream. Steele tells us that leather and rubber have become widely accepted as everyday wear, but no answer is forthcoming as to why this should be the case. The chapters end abruptly, as if having produced the requisite number or words, it is time to move on to something else.
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5 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Boring 12 Dec 1998
By A Customer
You would not think that a book concerning Fetish trends etc would put you to sleep but this book will. You may nod awake for the photos but the text is a mish-mosh of psycho-drivel, unrelated and uninteresting facts and sketchy history.
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Amazon.com: 3.0 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars veiled neutrality 20 Aug 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
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.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a dominating opinion 19 Feb 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
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. Not to simply psychology, but it's an interesting factor.
The notion that males rather than females are prone to fetishism is almost borne out by this book itself, as though it took a woman to write sensibly and objectively about fetish/fantasy issues. Conversely, she trips up in fashion, her academic field, which she's too close to for that degree of objectivity. In dicussing whether fetish-inspired fashions empower or degrade women (a discussion wisely complicated with reader-response and intentionalist critiques), she doesn't realize the question she's begging: Why are fetish fashions almost exclusively produced for and worn by women? You could argue that fetishism is almost exclusively male activity projected onto female items. But many fetishists are just as satisfied wearing the fetish items themselves. And as Steele distinguishes, fashion is about "normal" fetishizing, not fetishism, and works by far looser rules. All she really says to this question is that men's fashions are "slower to develop" and suggests a psychoanalytic theory (interesting, though far from convincing) about why women like dressing up more than men do. I think the obvious answer she misses is that whether women feel empowered or degraded, the very reason they're allowed (or required) to dress up at all is because they have a subservient social position to men. When men are required to dress up, it's a relatively simple and standardized uniforming, whereas women are required to puff up a la a court jester or similar colorful figure of subservient/entertainment social standing. Whatever a women chooses to wear, there's no choice about dressing up, and that's where real power lies.
These lacunae aside, it's an honest, thoughtful and meaningful examination of the unspoken--and often misunderstood--meanings lurking within our clothes, and a timely, necessary study of what's going on in the 20th century sexual mind.
Also wanted to add that today's radical forms of bodybuilding should be considered as body modification in the corseting/tattooing/piercing vein. It's been a rapid movement from Schwarzenegger's Greco-Roman classical perfection to today's insanely bulging, wildly exaggerated look.--J.Ruch
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A must for your collection 3 Jan 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
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
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars fetish and its influence on mainstream fashion 16 July 1997
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
_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

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

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great read on an interesting subject 24 Jun 2013
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I found this book to be very informative, well researched and a very good read. I would recommend this
book to all with even a mild interest in this subject matter.
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