Imperio de la moda [Empire of Fashion] explores how fashion emerged and developed throughout Spanish America during the eighteenth century. It aims to understand the ways in which fashion played a role as an economic, social, political, and cultural force in the different Spanish colonies throughout the Americas.

Imperio de la moda consists of a growing database with relevant examples of the extensive body of archival documents, images, manuals, treatises, and extant textile objects from eighteenth-century Spanish America. It is a collection of various written and visual records of fashion and related information from historical objects, such as fragments of textiles, garments, and jewelry. With the creation of this database, the research project aims to produce and expand the new knowledge of the dissemination and development of fashion in colonial Spanish America, while also providing new layers of understanding for the complex meanings of fashion in its different historical contexts.

Imperio de la moda builds on a growing number of studies of the development fashion as a global phenomenon in the Early Modern world. In doing so, it contributes to the ongoing academic debates that have questioned the Eurocentric approach that has been repeatedly used to study the history of fashion, which has resulted in the consideration of fashion as an exclusively Western, modern phenomenon. The bibliographies included on this website highlight some of the previous studies that have exposed the emergence of fashion as a global phenomenon, as well as some of the more traditional research that has been published on pre-modern and early modern fashion and the history and historiography of dress.

Imperio de la moda is also intended as an intervention to decolonize the Digital Humanities and Digital Art History. It provides a growing open, bilingual database that can be used by scholars, students, and anyone interested in colonial Spanish American fashion and art. As the database grows, it will include more of the objects that are currently housed in different parts of the world, some of which have never been published digitally before. By making them available online, this project aims to provide new forms of access to these objects from around the world—something particularly important, for example, in the case of objects that are housed away from their place of origin and which have received little scholarly attention because of their lack of accessibility. The new digital access to these objects is also a form of digital repatriation of the cultural patrimony that has been looted from the Americas as a result of the European colonial imposition in the continent.

The growing number of educational resources in this website is meant to inform the varied ways in which the objects in the database can be studied and interpreted. The glossary is the most basic educational resource, providing definitions and translations of terms that are commonly found in archival records and descriptions of textiles and garments from the period. It also includes brief notes on terms that are often considered ambiguous and polemic, such as “fashion,” “dress,” and “costume,” as well as some of the debates related to their use. The interpretive essays in this section are short written pieces related to the objects featured in the database, which provide examples of different approaches of inquiry into these material objects. Finally, the thematic bibliographies include highlighted research publications related to the study of fashion history in Spanish America and the Early Modern world. As the research project advances, the amount and extent of these educational resources will continue to grow.

In the future, Imperio de la moda also aims to include visualizations of trade networks and the movement of objects in the Early Modern world, as well as animated representations of the transformations of trends and the adaptations of Pre-Columbian and European fashions in colonial Spanish America. It will also include reports of historical reproductions of garments and other related experiments.

about the researcher

Picture of Laura Beltran-Rubio. She has dark, long, wavy hair. She wears a black turtleneck and red lipstick.

Laura Beltran-Rubio specializes in the history of art and fashion in the early modern Spanish World. She is a doctoral candidate at the College of William and Mary (Williasmburg, Va.) and received her MA in Fashion Studies from Parsons School of Design. Her dissertation explores the adoption and adaptation of European fashions, their fusion with local indigenous elements of dress, and their representation in portraits and pictures of types in the Viceroyalty of New Granada. More broadly, her research explores the construction of identity through fashion en Europe and Latin America.

Laura is a big proponent of decolonizing fashion and its history, theory, and criticism. She is profoundly interested in the Digital Humanities and participates in two groundbreaking projects in the field: Culturas de Moda and The Fashion and Race Database.