Art History



Degree Name

Master of Arts in Art History (M.A.)

Type of Paper/Work

Qualifying paper


Craig Eliason

Second Advisor

Heather M. Shirey

Third Advisor

Elizabeth Kindall


The aim of this paper is to explore the concept of how costume creates character. Using fashion theory adapted from the works of Anne Hollander, I will discuss the concept of performative expectations and how costumes create these expectations. In a case study involving the works of American artist John Singer Sargent, I will explore works in which he included the element of costume in his portraits. Divided into the sub-categories of Theatrically Costumed Portraiture and Costumed Society Portraits, these sections will aid in elucidating ideas concerning how costumes, in their societal and historical contexts, portray identity and help the wearer to carry out the performances expected of them. The theatrically costumed portraiture
section will discuss how literal, theatrical costumes serve to aid in visual understanding of performative expectations while also lending to the identity of the person portrayed in the image. The costumed society portraiture section will then discuss how literal costumes presented in a societal context can aid in saying things not only about the wealth of those wearing them, but also about cultural identity. In the final section, I will then draw from the previous discussions and examples to discuss how concepts of costumed portraits may be applied to images which lack the costumed element in terms of clothing creating performative expectations.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.