A Queer History of Modeling

1. Lily Yuen with fellow performers, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. 2. Ruth Ford portrait by George Platt Lynes, c. 1930. 3. Sara Lou Harris on the cover of Jet magazine, June 18, 1953. 4. Teri Toye wearing Stephen Sprouse, Fall 1984, portrait by Paul Palmero, photo courtesy of Teri Toye.

From the haute couture runways of Paris and New York and editorial photo shoots for glossy fashion magazines to reality television, models have been a ubiquitous staple of twentieth- and twenty-first-century American consumer culture. Work! traces the history of modeling from the advent of photographic modeling in the early twentieth century to the rise of the supermodel in the 1980s.

Work! outlines how the modeling industry sanitized and commercialized models' sex appeal in order to elicit and channel desire into buying goods. It animates how this new form of sexuality—whether exhibited in the Ziegfeld Follies girls' performance of Anglo-Saxon femininity or in African American models' portrayal of black glamour in the 1960s—became a central element in consumer capitalism and a practice that has always been shaped by queer sensibilities. By outlining the paradox that queerness lies at the center of capitalist heteronormativity and telling the largely unknown story of queer models and photographers, Work! offers an out of the ordinary history of twentieth-century American culture and capitalism.

Praise FOR WORK!

"Whether it’s the showgirls of the 1920s, fashion photographer George Platt Lynes spearheading 'queer glamour' in the 1930s, or the groundbreaking Black models of the 1950s and ’60s, Brown’s book will reshape our understanding of the modeling industry." — Evette Dionne, Bitch Magazine

"Modelling is a queer business in every sense of that word. Brown’s exploration of it is fascinating: intelligent and unexpected in the turns that its analysis takes. This is no glib foray into celebrity culture, no superficial survey of supermodels. . . . A strikingly original, non-normative telling of 20th-century culture." — Shahidha Bari, Times Higher Education

“Rigorously researched and eloquently argued, Work! is a brilliant and unique book that merges theory, method, and empirical historical work to create a new understanding of capitalism, sexuality, and the image. Elspeth H. Brown changes our approach to the history of sexuality and sets a new standard for studies of capitalism and culture.” — Nan Enstad, author of Cigarettes, Inc.: An Intimate History of Corporate Imperialism

“Elspeth H. Brown queers fashion modeling in a much-needed, highly readable way, with anecdotes that will surprise and educate even the most seasoned of fashion studies scholars. Her skill as a historian and nuanced analyst are on clear display through quality scholarship that brings the disparate fields of queer theory, affect studies, and the history of capitalism into fruitful conversation. A must-read for scholars of media and the body!” — Elizabeth Wissinger, author of This Year’s Model: Fashion, Media, and the Making of Glamour.