Global Encounters:  Fashion, culture and foreign textile trade in Scandinavia, 1550-1650

A project by Dr. Paula Hohti, Marie Curie fellow

This project explores how European trade and cultural encounters shaped Scandinavian cultures in the Renaissance period. By focusing on clothing, fashion, and foreign clothing and textiles trade in the Scandinavian state of Finland and Sweden in 1550-1650, the central questions posed by my project are:

  • How was textile and clothing trade organised and what were the mechanisms through which foreign products were acquired in Sweden and Finland?
  • How did international fashions influence the dress of the Finnish and Swedish nobility, and how were new dress designs and products disseminated across social classes and applied and integrated within the local production and culture?
  • What impact did novel fashion products and cultural encounters with Europeans have on social behaviour, regulation of dress and the cultural meanings that were associated with dress and appearance?
  • How was knowledge about new fashions, products and concepts transmitted across linguistic, social and geographic borders?

This project brings together history, archaeology, anthropology, economic and social history and fashion theory to explore what changes were introduced by foreign imports into the local clothing cultures in Sweden and Finland, how the lives of individuals and families were visually transformed by such changes, and, eventually, what constituted ‘fashions’ in Sweden and Finland in the period.

By providing new knowledge about fashion and cross-cultural exchanges against the global background of increasing and intensified cultural and economic networks from the Scandinavian perspective, it is hoped that the research will provide a ground for exciting new hypothesis and interpretation of the European cultural past.

This project also allows us to challenge the traditional models for diffusion of fashion ideas, especially the notion that fashionable dress disseminates to the North exclusively from a fashion center, usually identified in the early modern Europe as France, Spain, Italy or London.

Methodological Framework

The aim is to develop a new methodology merging theoretical and practical approaches to textile and fashion history in early modern Europe, especially in the context of the Scandinavian early modern fashion, by combining historical and art historical methods and theoretical and empirical approach with concrete and practical work and the exploration of museum collections and real textile artefacts. This involves experimenting with new methods, including technical analysis of textiles such as dye and fibre analysis as well as museum work.

This framework of dress and textile research at both scientific and experimental levels enables us to propose a more comprehensive interpretation of the value, origins and stylistic variations associated with dress and textile items, and to develop a better understanding of how narratives from texts, technologies and material things can be reconstructed.

The intention is also to develop new theoretical models for social and economic interpretation, in order to evaluate how this study fits within and can contribute to the ongoing debates concerning economic, social and cultural change in Europe.

This way, the aim the project is not only to provide new knowledge about history of trade and fashion in Europe, but also a model for a real debate and discussion about how a study of dress and fashion as an economic and cultural force in the past can provide models for our understanding of the same issues in other time periods and even today.