As the new academic year starts, we got together to choose some of our favourite online and digital resources for researching dress history. We wanted to share these with you, and to give you examples of some of our best finds amongst the rich selection of material each resource contains. Hope you enjoy exploring them, as much as we do.
Alexis: I discovered http://www.ina.fr, the site of the Institut national de l’audiovisuel (INA), as I conducted research for my thesis on French culture and ready-made dress from the late 1940s to the early 1970s. The site, which archives a wide range of contemporary and historical materials, including interviews, television episodes, documentary film and radio reports, and fashion shows, has enriched my research, which is based on more typical textual and visual sources. One example of a chance discovery that provides insight into the period is a news report from 1974 that discussed the couture trade syndicate’s acceptance of ready-to-wear designers. Its mix of current affairs, industry, women, fashion imagery, and Paris scenery brings together many of the components of my research.
Katerina: My favourite online research resource is WorldCat, a database that connects you to both bibliographic and archival material on a subject. It’s especially useful if you’re looking up a person, because it can advise you about where their archives are located, or about lesser known, but relevant articles on them. During the course of my PhD research I wanted to find out about the photographer Alexey Brodovitch’s activity as a designer in 1920s Paris, but all the publications I had encountered overlooked this phase in his career. When I looked up ‘Alexey Brodovitch’ on Worldcat however, it brought up Nathalie Cattaruzza’s work on Brodovitch’s early career.
Liz: Berg Fashion Library (BFL) is an online reference resource distributed by Oxford University Press to academic subscription holders. The Courtauld Library holds a subscription to BFL, through which I can view the entire series of Berg Encyclopedia of World Fashion and Dress, countless e-books, extra reference resources and numerous images. These subjects can all be searched for by place, date, or key terms. BFL is always my first port of call for my own research, which has encompassed Morocco, Africa, Japan and Brazil. I find it particularly useful given the extensive attention paid to Western but also non-Western modes of everyday and high-end fashion and dress.
Rebecca: The resource I return to again and again – for work and pleasure – is the Prelinger Archives. This has an extensive collection of non-fiction films that can be watched online, downloaded and reproduced free! It’s a really exciting collection, one favourite is Fashion Horizons from 1940. This is a travelogue that shows Hollywood starlets modelling contemporary fashions, as they travel by plane to various landmarks in America. The film is in colour, and gives a really good idea of attitudes to modernity, luxury, ethnicity and gender just before America entered the war.
Lucy: Wellcome Images is the online counterpart to the Wellcome Collection, one of London’s most unique and diverse museums. It hosts a broad and endlessly fascinating range of images that explore the human experience through life, death, the body, art, and more. For my research, its medical and military material helps me to contextualise ways violence encroached upon fashion during the interwar period. The resource also reveals examples of this phenomenon, such as a 1930s Zam Buk advertisement. Here, the isolation of body parts upon a black background participates in a post-First World War trend that I have identified, towards fragmentation in fashion and beauty.