Author Archives: Helena

Alumni Spotlight: Emma McClendon

Emma McClendon was the Associate Curator of Costume at The Museum at F.I.T. in New York where she has curated numerous critically acclaimed exhibitions including Power Mode: The Force of Fashion (2019), The Body: Fashion and Physique (2017) and Denim: Fashion’s Frontier (2015). She graduated from the Documenting Fashion M.A. program at the Courtauld in 2011. She sat down with Helena Klevorn to talk about fashion’s position in the museum, burgeoning questions about fashion curation, and her next career steps.



EM: Hi! How are you? How is everything going?

HK: It’s good, though kinda tough, as you can imagine since the school has closed and we all went home and are writing our dissertations at home.

EM: Oh, you’re doing that all remotely. When did you guys comes back?

HK: I think most people left around mid-March.

EM: Oh, that’s not too long after I saw you guys, right?

HK: Yeah, it was really soon after our visit that the school closed. Everything happened so fast! So, the first think I want to talk about, since you told us you went straight to F.I.T. from the M.A., was how from the beginning of the M.A. program to the end, your idea of what you wanted to do afterwards changed or if it didn’t change, in that you got to do exactly what you wanted straight out of the program.

EM: I think it’s kind of weird because I think that I went into the M.A. program absolutely hoping that in the long run I would be able to work in a museum and work in a curatorial role at a museum that dealt specifically with fashion, because what led to the program was that I had interned in the Furniture, Textiles, and Fashion department at the V&A while I was an undergrad. I had actually worked with a furniture person, not a fashion curator, but while I was there I met some of the fashion curators and they had all gone to the Courtauld and so that was what led me to look into the program and so that was the dream. But while I was in the program, I definitely went in with eyes wide open that the likelihood of getting a curatorial job in a museum was pretty low. It’s a niche field, there just aren’t a lot of institutions, unfortunately—now there’s more and it’s growing—but even just ten years ago there weren’t as many institutions as there are now dealing with dress and fashion.

So throughout the program I kind of explored other ways that I might work in tangential fields. I did an internship while I was doing my M.A. at Diane von Furstenberg’s office in London during market week because I was like, “Well, maybe I can parlay this into the fashion industry itself.” I also did an internship, and these were shorter Work Experiences, at I.B. Tauris, the publishing house, just to get a lay of the land because, again, this [my current position] was the goal. It sounds really linear and like it was perfectly planned when I say it now, but at the time it felt like anything but a sure thing. That was the goal but in that way that I almost wouldn’t say it out loud because it sounded so far-fetched at the time.

So I started [at F.I.T.] as an intern, and even while I was interning it still seemed like a long shot, because of, I think, one of the most useful pieces of information I heard during the program from the working professionals that we met—like Beatrice [Behlen, Senior Curator of Fashion and Decorative Arts], who I’m sure you met at the Museum of London. We went on a trip to their archive and saw a few pieces and I remember her being really frank with us in a way that I always try to be with students when they come through, and she said that museum work can be all about timing, which is what’s really frustrating because these are jobs that people tend to stay in for a really long time and there’s not that many of them and so it can really be about just happening into it. Yes you do the work, and you try, and you get the degree and all that, but it’s also being in the right place at the right time. And in that way I do feel like I was very fortunate that when I was coming to the end of my internship a part-time job opened up in the curatorial department, and so I applied and I was fortunate enough to get it, but then I was in that for almost two years before I got the full-time job. So there’s timing, and also this field just takes a lot of patience, is what I would say.

But, again, another thing I always say and what I really do believe from my experience is that even though it seems really scary, and the pessimistic way to look at it is that there’s no right way to do it, there’s no path, there’s no funnel and step-by-step process that you’re supposed to follow and that’s mapped out for you, that can be so frightening. But the more optimistic way to look at it, which I really do think is true, is that there’s no wrong way to do it. Because of the way that this is such a niche and burgeoning field, people are coming into it and coming into museums and coming into  academic positions from all different angles. People are working in corporate archives, they’re working in journalism, they’re working in the industry itself, they’re not necessarily just interning at a museum and working in a museum. There is a much broader spectrum of how you can build your career and build your experience.

HK: Definitely. And on that note, I wanted to talk about how, especially as you’ve been in this position for a number of years now and seen it change, I’m seeing people coming up as “independent fashion curators.”

EM: Right, yeah.

HK: There was a woman who I saw speak a few years ago who, then, was a curator at Somerset House, and then moved to New York City and now is an “independent curator” unaffiliated with any particular institution. What does that kind of position mean in this space and the, sort of, ability to be curating  fashion outside of a museum and what do you see in that in terms of the direction it’s moving in?

EM: I think that’s one of the things that’s really exciting. I, personally, would like to see more institutionalized, full-time, permanent positions for curators in our field given that museums and institutions generally–like colleges and their art galleries or corporations or independent galleries–are sort of hungry for this topic and want to engage with fashion, but then they don’t employ the permanent person, and that’s where these freelancers come in. And so this is where I think it really is about there not being a clear cut path. You can freelance, I know so many people who are in this field and [freelance] is the path that they’ve been on, whether it’s that they don’t like the 9-5 or whether it’s that they’ve really kind of struggled and hustled and this is their way of doing curatorial projects. Again, there’s a spectrum of how people come into this. But I think it’s really exciting.

I, personally, have not yet done a freelance project. Because of the trajectory  I’ve been on, I’ve always been with an institution which is really fortunate, but it also, I think, can be kind of limiting. When you’re a freelance curator–and there are so many opportunities for that because people are so hungry for this project and that’s just what a lot of people have to do–I think you have to wear so many different hats when you’re doing that job, because not only do you have to be the person who thinks of the ideas, thinks of the objects you want to include, thinks of how you want to organize the space, you also have to be the person who organizes the space, who organizes how you’re going to build it out, how you’re going to get it to look the way you want it to look. You might have to dress all the objects, because you might not have the money to employ handlers or installers. You also have to manage your entire budget and a lot of times that’s down to managing how much you’re actually going to be able to pay yourself. And I think that in museums, also, there’s a whole spectrum of museums, less well-known museums or historical houses, where you have to do a similar thing to the freelancers and wear so many different hats while you’re doing those kinds of projects.

In a way I feel kind of conflicted about it because I think it’s really exciting that there are all of these freelance opportunities and that there is this outlet to be able to express yourself creatively. At the same time, I worry that so many institutions are taking advantage of this freelance workforce that’s out there so that they can put on these one-off shows that maybe travel from somewhere else and then hire a local person or even not even a local person, a remote person, to sort of oversee or “advise” the curatorial staff at the museum. But then, [the institutions] don’t actually have any experience in mounting a fashion exhibition and it’s so different that I think it can be a double-edged sword. But I do think it is something really exciting and I would encourage anyone who’s entering the field to consider [the freelance] avenue. You know, if you have a project if you have an idea and you want to workshop and approach a gallery, an institution, a place, if you have a means or a context to get mannequins, get objects, you know, there’s a lot of opportunity there.

HK: Going off of what you were talking about, with the institutions and how they’re treating these exhibitions, your institution is obviously very focused on fashion and displaying fashion, but in other institutions where that’s something they’re starting to explore or that’s a department within a larger, fine-art focused institution, what do you think is the attitude towards fashion exhibitions? I’ve heard that it can be, “Oh, well, that’s a money-maker that gets people in the door but it’s not necessarily something we value.” Versus, for example, the V&A where they have, for lack of a better word, a higher regard for clothes than other ones. So I’m curious about how you’ve seen that transform or not transform.

EM: Well, museums and their approach to fashion is very much based on the goal of the institutions, right? So I think the attitude towards fashion can very based on whether they collect fashion or not. I think a place like the V&A started as a decorative arts museum, and they’ve been collecting textiles and clothing and material objects for their entire existence, so they’re going to have more of a regard and have more flexibility to let fashion be fashion and not have to fit it into a box. Whereas, similarly and different, a place like the Philadelphia Museum of Art, also has been collecting fashion, for a very long time, and it has one of the older collections of clothing in the states. But that’s a fine art museum so I think that, likely, when you’re part of a fine art museum, you have to position the exhibitions within the goals of the institution, which might be more about the theories, and critiques, and ideas behind fine art as opposed to material culture or even social history. Versus the Smithsonian, their approach is going to be completely different, and it’s going to be about where clothing fits into the broader scope and mission of the institution because it’s sort of a social history museum.

But I think what’s been interesting to see are the places that, only in the last decade, have started to show clothing. What I find most interesting to see about those institutions is whether they’re going to develop their own content or whether they’re going to bring in a travelling exhibition because I think that can kind of change the institutional attitude towards it. if you’re just bringing in a monograph designer exhibition, like about Dior, about YSL, about something like that, in my opinion those shows are really about being a blockbuster. They’re about getting bodies into the museum and, yes, celebrating fashion, and yes celebrating these objects, and yes welcoming it into the museum. It’s great to see so many more museums doing these shows, and that’s the majority of the one’s that we’re seeing expand in the field, are these travelling blockbusters, you know Gaultier, McQueen, Dior, YSL.

What is much fewer and far between are when we see a show like the one at MoMA that doesn’t have a clothing collection, that has some odd objects that you could define as dress, but they developed from the ground up an entire show that was original to MoMA. And there were a lot of mixed reactions to that, because, you know what was interesting about that show was just how many reactions it sparked from people, from people from art who were like, “what is this doing here?” to people in fashion who were like, “I don’t know about their approach,’ but I’m still kind of processing how I feel about it. One thing with that show is that I think it’s fascinating that a museum that doesn’t collect [fashion] still developed its own content and brought this show and that it was able to spark such conversations about the topic. I wish more museums would do that, but unfortunately we’re really seeing that—and I mean this is true for fine art exhibitions as well—the big artists, the big designer exhibition is the kind of general governing principle for museums that don’t do fashion dipping their toe in the water or fashion. They’re not necessarily going to do a thematic deep dive trying to grapple with it academically, but we’re only really in the first, kind of, ten years of this awakening of interest, and I mean big blockbuster interest.

I keep using this word blockbuster and you brought this up in your question, it is about money, and I think it would be wrong to exclude money from any discussion of museum content and museum planning. Yes we, ideally, want the museum to be a place about ideas and academia and where money is this thing that you disregard, but the reality of running museums is that it’s always thinking about how many people are coming through the door, what the budget is, what you can put on, what loans you can get, what objects you can acquire, and so I think that this global interest in fashion exhibitions came out of the insane numbers of the McQueen show.

There is a reason that I say this past decade because when Savage Beauty opened in 2011 at the Met, they hadn’t had things like that at the Met since, like, the Mona Lisa was on display, and it’s only been getting bigger and bigger since then, but that was one that came out of left field. That was the first one where it was like, the idea that fashion exhibitions happen that people are interested, because no one really even paid attention to the Met Gala that year. That was just one where he was so much in the public imagination because of his recent death, because Kate Middleton had worn a design by Sarah Burton from McQueen to the Royal Wedding, his name was out there, everybody was kind of talking about him and thinking about him, and it just hit at that perfect moment. The lines! I mean, I went to that and, that was when I first got back to the city, and the line went down the Met stairs and a couple blocks up Fifth avenue, it was crazy. And you got in and it was so densely packed, and I remember that year the last few days of it they kept the museum open until midnight or something and there were lines stretching inside also to get to it. And so when you’re in the museum field you really are always thinking about how to get community engagement, visitor engagement, get bodies in the museum, that’s how you run your institution. It’s going to raise your eyebrows and make you ask why and, of course, since then, we’ve seen more and more institutions…

HK: …Taking that on.

EM: Right.

HK: It’s interesting that you bring up the issue of money in the exhibitions and the presentation of these pieces, because, especially with my background in formal art history, I feel as though something that was always coming up in the conversation was showing pieces that theoretically you could buy. Not off the mannequin in the museum but, for example, I could go to a show about Dior and if they show something from the last season I could go buy that. Or at the Rei Kawakubo show, a couple of years ago, they had the Commes des Garcons PLAY T-shirts in the store. The intersection of that is something that I don’t have an issue with, and that’s mostly because I think if you consider a garment as a piece of important work then you’ll consider your purchases more seriously, but I’m not sure if that really happens or if it affects people in that way.

EM: I think that there is a kind of cynical way to look at it and then there’s a much more generous way to look at it. So I have two minds about it. One is that at the end of the day, I do not think that fashion is art, personally. Fashion is an industry, fashion is material culture, fashion is not fine art. Fashion is a consumer product, that’s made, as you’re saying, in a completely different way. And when you’re showing contemporary clothing, it is a product, and, yes, I think that, again because museums—and this is the cynical thing—because museums are not for profit but they need money to run, and people also want these big flashy blockbuster shows, I think places like what you described with the Kawakubo show, they also had it with Camp, it’s like, yes we can poo-poo fashion as being really opportunistic, but museums do that all the time. I mean, every exhibition you walk out of you immediately walk into the gift shop, where the catalogue is and the postcards are, and the tote bags are and the posters are, so this isn’t just a fashion thing, this is museums in general.

What I find personally, as a scholar, more interesting are shows that really make you confront, and these are few and far between, but shows that are more intentional about the integration of the consumer-side of fashion in the gallery space itself and making you confront that. There have been two shows that spring to mind, one was this tiny show that the Whitney had that was with Eckhaus Latta….oh gosh was it called…

HK: I can’t remember what it was called [either], but they sold the stuff in the gallery.

EM: Yes. So it was basically, you walked in and I went and I actually bought a piece that was there and it has a tag on it … hold on it’s right in the closet I’ll grab it. EM steps away from computer…My husband’s saying it was called “Possessed.”

EM returns with her token of gallery visit, a white denim jacket, that’s “got the cropped, kick-pleated whatever thing.”

EM: OK, so, because I’m nerd I kept the tags on it, but I got this there, and I’ve worn it, but I kept the tags on it because it has this thing that says “Special Museum Exhibition Product” and it also says that on the label … So anyways, I kept that because I thought it was so interesting, it was like one of the only times where I’ve seen, like you walked in, you didn’t have to pay to get into it, you know it’s like the Whitney you have to pay exorbitant prices to get in, this was in  their…

HK: That downstairs gallery on the first floor

EM: Right, the small artists gallery that you don’t have to pay to get into. And so it also kind of blended the space, and it was in the Meatpacking, so it’s blending the space between the museum, and the boutique, and there was, a photo spread when you first walked in on these lightboxes that were on the ground, it was very cool. And then you walked in and it was a staffed boutique, but [the fashion’s] the art, but it’s also an installation, but what I thought was most interesting was that they weren’t restocking it. So it was like, you go in the beginning, and it’s full, and they were very playful about it, they were like, “We don’t know if we’re going to sell anything, we might be full the whole time, we might end up being empty.” And they worked with local artists to create the space. And then it had a fitting room and it had all these mirrors up…Did you go?

HK: I read a lot about it, but didn’t get a chance to see it. But it’s certainly something that [even though I didn’t see it] stuck in my mind as a sort of “what was that?” moment.

EM: Right, right. And you walk in and then there’s another room and you realize that the mirrors in the shop are actually two-way mirrors into this other room that’s all dark and has seats you cans it on, and then it has this screen of monitors that are all showing live security feed to other stores around the world that sell Eckhaus Latta.

HK: Oh whoa.

EM: So that was one of the shows. A the other one, I think I don’t know that much about it because I didn’t go because I’m not in Chicagp, but last year there was the Virgil Abloh show.

HK: Yeah, that one I actually did get a chance to see.

EM: That one I know, just from a friend who lives in Chicago, that they also had this sort of merging of gallery and shop space. And again, this sort of presentation of clothing that’s on hangers and on a rack and how you would see it in a store, and being a gallery and not on mannequins, so this is all a very extended way to say that I think people who call out fashion exhibitions for doing that kind of cross-branding and object-selling are forgetting that that’s just what museums do all the time with their posters and umbrellas and, like, MoMA’s design store.

It’s like, I’m sorry this is just the business model, this isn’t fashion, it’s just that fashion maybe lends itself much faster because you can buy the thing that you’re seeing, or a version of it. But, what are you talking about when you can go buy the salt and pepper shaker by the fancy Italian designer that you’re seeing across the street at the MoMA design store, I mean MoMA’s been doing this for decades.

But again, I think that more compelling academically, are the things like the Eckhaus Latta, which, again, got such mixed reviews, but I was like, this is making you confront the fact that fashion isn’t art. It’s a completely different social mechanism, it’s an industry, you can’t talk about it in the same way and to put it up on a pedestal can get really problematic because then we’re not dealing with the labor and the people who wear things and we can put it up on a skinny white mannequin and call it art and be like, “Oh it’s O.K., because it’s idealized” and it’s like, well but it’s actually a real world product.

HK: Right. And to going on this, too, I think there was an interesting moment at the Abloh exhibition where they had his pieces on racks in the gallery, and I was standing with my mom, and they weren’t facing forward because they weren’t on mannequins, they were on racks.

EM: Right! Yes!

HK: And we were looking at it, like, are we supposed to touch them to see them? Like I’m at a shop?

EM: And you want to, and it’s this confrontation of how you interact with objects, and you put them in here and suddenly you can’t touch them. Yes, yes, that’s what I heard too. But it’s weird because you can’t see it and then you’re, like, wait what am I supposed to do?

HK: Yeah. And I think it’s really interesting, and it’s such a question because I wonder, you know, what does that mean in terms of, like, you see museums doing that and the other side is you see stores, like we visited the McQueen flagship store as a class.

EM: Oh, yeah yeah.

HK: We saw the exhibition of their couture on the second floor, and it opens this question of whether the gallery exhibitions are the same thing, or are they different.

EM: Yeah exactly, and that’s really interesting, because that was in London, right?

HK: Yeah, it was.

EM: Yeah, I was wondering about that too, because it’s at the boutique, but then are they selling them?

HK: Yeah, and you have to walk through the whole boutique to get up there, because it’s on the second or third floor, so you go through, you see people shopping, you see all the merchandise, and then you get to the top where they have the exhibition space.

EM: Yeah, exactly, it’s really interesting.

HK: So there are only a few minutes before Zoom is going to kick me off, and I wanted to ask about your next steps, since I know you’re leaving F.I.T. to go into a Ph.D. program, and I wanted to ask about that.

EM: Yeah, so I actually started the program part-time last year, and since I left the Courtauld program I always kind of wanted to get the Ph.D., and so I’m finally doing it. I basically just reached a point where, I’ve been at the museum for nine years, and I really felt like I got to a place in my practice where I was feeling really conflicted about a lot of issues with fashion and museums. I think about how its displayed, about how people react with it, about the mannequins, about the type of clothing that we’re showing, about the bodies that we’re showing, about the designers that we’re celebrating about the clothing that we’re collecting, and I feel a bit, kind of, conflicted about some of that stuff. I don’t necessarily have an answer to it, it’s not that I say, “Poo poo on all that stuff and it’s terrible” one way or the other, but I found myself just really wanting to take a break from active curatorial practice, and segueing into a more academic side.

I’m doing research at the Bard Graduate Center for my Ph.D., which I’m really excited about. It’s on the history of standardized sizing in the late nineteenth century in the U.S., and I’m also going to be teaching some courses at the Parsons M.A. program on curatorial practice, and object based research. I’m really excited to transition into a side where I can think about a lot of the issues that I was so involved with and didn’t have time to really reflect on. You’re constantly producing and you’re constantly in it when you’re working, and I’m excited to step back and take it in a bit because I do think that we’re on the cusp of a lot of change in museums in general between the pandemic, but also all of the much overdue conversations that are being had about equality and about representation and so it’s going to be really interesting to see how museums grapple with these things going forward. And particularly in fashion museums that deal so much with bodies and people and identity. So I’m excited to go into a different thing. I’ll miss curating as well, but it was really breakneck at the museum. In nine years I did seven exhibitions, and three books and a  journal … it was amazing but it was a lot.

Quick Q’s:

  1. What was your M.A. Dissertation topic?

I wrote my MA dissertation on the effect of the 1962 Telstar satellite (which made it possible to broadcast live TV from around the world) on the trans-Atlantic fashion industry, looking specifically at how it impacted coverage of Paris couture shows in the New York Times and the New York Herald Tribune.

  1. What’s your favorite exhibition you’ve put on so far?

This is hard – I’ve really loved every show I’ve put on and each one has taught me new things and raised new questions that have built on each other. But if I had to pick one, I think it would be The Body: Fashion and Physique because it dealt with body positivity, discrimination, and acceptance, which is a topic that’s very important to me, and the exhibition actually gave rise to my Ph.D. research on the early history of standardized sizing.

  1. What’s an exhibition you didn’t get the chance to put on, but hope to see materialize in the future?

One issue I’d love to explore one day is the link between workwear and high fashion, and also the link between modern fashion, archaeology, and colonialism.


[Answers have been edited for clarity]

Watching Time(s) Go By

Like many others quarantined at home, I find myself with an abundance of time to spend in front of the television. Passing from streaming service to streaming service, docu-series to foreign drama, digitized film to YouTube short, the days of the Coronavirus have increasingly been defined by what we’re watching. While a few choice programs, like Tiger King, are able to sweep the nation (the Nation of Netflix, for which we all stand), the decision of what to watch is left to one’s personal desires. So what does it mean if all I can watch are period pieces, set decades or even centuries before I was even born? 

It all started with a recommendation from Rebecca to watch Babylon Berlin, a German neo-noir TV-show set in 1929 Berlin. Needless to say, I was tantalized by the glittery fashions, clever plot twists, and mysterious, shadowy figures of the city’s criminal, political, and even medical underworld. For perhaps the entirety of the first season, I recommended the show to anyone who would listen, and waxed poetic about the incredible costumes, precise set decoration, and absolutely breathtaking world creation achieve by the production team.


For the next few weeks, I craved the same sort of exhilaration I felt while watching that show and seeing a masterfully crafted work unfold before my eyes. After a lot of watching and even more scrolling, it has become clear that while the world creation I so adored was driven on its face by a need for beautiful visuals, it’s hiding a desire for escape in a moment characterized by a constant state of unpredictability and worry.


To be sure, my list of “Have Watched” and “Want to Watch” reads like a cinematic traipse through some of the most lavish and visually compelling periods in modern history. In the former column: Netflix’s Freud, another German mystery set in the early 20th century; Hulu’s A French Village, a drama about a small French town during German occupation; The Tudors, a royal drama from Showtime; the ever-enchanting Gilda, Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette; Gosford Park; The Aviator…The latter column is populated with more of the same: The upcoming Mrs. America on Hulu, a show about the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s; Planetarium, a film starring Natalie Portman and Lily-Rose Depp as a pair 1930’s psychics; Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York; Elizabeth and Elizabeth the Golden Age; Netflix’s Alias Grace; Howard’s End; A Single Man … the list goes on.

I was able to convince myself for quite some time that what was attractive was the idea of visually exploring these different fashion eras without the pressure of a time constraint. That was until a friend recommended a show on HBO, High Maintenance. Set in contemporary New York (or as contemporary as 2012 can feel right now), it’s a comedy about a bicycle-riding marijuana dealer who ventures to different clients’ apartments in Brooklyn and the peculiar people and situations he encounters along the way. It’s one of those shows that puts a specific facet of New York life on screen for everyone to see and enjoy, and warms the hearts of those lucky enough to live there.

Illustration for blog

Or that would be true if New York weren’t the global epicenter for an era-defining pandemic. I found myself unable to make it through a single episode of the show, and when my friend pressed me on why, I realized I couldn’t stand to watch normal 21st century people going about their normal 21st century lives. Not because the thought of anyone within 6 feet of each other suddenly made me squirm, but because it somehow felt as foreign and bygone as those other period pieces I’d been watching henceforth. Captive in my parents’ home and an ocean away from the city where I thought I would be spending this year, a return to normal—if even through a TV screen—seems as far-off a dream as wandering into the court of Louis XIV, manteau and all.

American television makes squaring the now with the very recent-past even more difficult due to the constancy of news, updates, and presidential pontificating. The crisis is inescapable from newspaper to news channel, and suffocates the mind, sending it spiraling in directions economic, political, medicinal, familial, and on and on and on. It seems the only respite from one’s own mind would be to erase the present altogether, and settle into a bygone era. An era either free from the complications of the present, or familiar enough that the mind can relish in the comfort of knowing exactly how it all plays out, and release the anxiety of uncertainty.

For us fashion lovers, film and television have always been an enjoyable part of our research. Allowing myself to escape into a period where beaded dresses were de rigeur at a nightclub or a corset was a social necessity or one was never to leave the house without at least a swipe of lipstick was always the best way to engage with the stories and societies that surround clothing—and it becomes especially enticing when I have no reason to wear anything but sweatpants for the foreseeable future. But in a moment where the fashion industry is faced with a reckoning the likes of which it has never encountered in its modern iteration, I fear to neglect an examination of the contemporary would be doing a disservice to the possibilities of the future. When every aspect of fashion production and its international scope is affected by changing buying habits and the global threat of infection; When multi-national luxury conglomerates have transformed their perfume manufacturers to hand sanitizer suppliers; When home-sewing has seen a resurgence to provide necessary equipment for our doctors and nurses; When all this and more is true at this very moment, it seems to me that the fashion of the near future and beyond will be forever changed. Decisions about what that change looks like relies on those of us who spend our days contemplating fashion’s constant importance through history and beyond.

Screenshot of two COVID19

Of course, I will never not recommend Babylon Berlin, as it’s certainly a masterpiece of the genre (CGI train notwithstanding). But in these next weeks of isolation, I think a valuable exercise may be one of actually allowing myself to come to terms with this moment and what’s to come: what’s to come for my studies and, more importantly, what’s to come for fashion.

Second Time Around

Colorful knit sweater hanging on wooden bookshelf filled with books.
Helena Klevorn “The Cardigan in Question” (2019), digital photo.

On a rainy Sunday afternoon in October, I get off the number 19 bus and am greeted by a block-long line snaking out of the Chelsea Old Town Hall. Populated in equal measure by eccentric older ladies with pastel purple hair and fashion students sporting their most recent creations, I scan the flamboyant outfits as I stroll past them, to the front of the line, and in the door.

“I have a pass,” I say, retrieving a crumpled piece of card stock from inside my (for now) empty tote bag. The ticket-checker looks at the pass. “Oh you must have been here last month!” she exclaims. “Welcome back.” I smile and confirm that yes, in fact, I had been here last month and I was back for a second helping. For “here” was not just any weekend fête at the center of Chelsea’s shopping district; “Here” was the Frock Me! vintage fashion fair, a beloved gathering for the fashion-ccentrics of London to find the (not so) latest and greatest additions to their own vintage collections.

The typically spacious main room of Chelsea Old Town Hall today feels stuffy and crowded with vintage venders from across the country, selling clothes from across the globe. Each vendor has their own stall, with only a few tables and clothing racks. Despite the pared down set-up, every vendor has brought their best and (literally) brightest, cramming their stalls with garments of every color, fabric, and ornamentation imaginable. From heavy, jangling necklaces brought in from the Middle East to the preppy, chestnut wools of New England to scratchy and constricting undergarments of Edwardian England to the slippery silk of Japanese kimonos, the very fabric of fashion history seems to have been crumpled up and stuffed beneath the grand dome of the Town Hall, like some kind of magician’s trick.

The clinking of one hanger against the next collapses my very sense of time, space, and even decent taste. Between a starched tuxedo shirt and a woolly Irish sweater, my fingers land on a smooth, silky fabric. I pull it out to find a flimsy cardigan, loosely woven, in a lime green, aqua blue, and tangerine orange zigzag pattern. I fumble around looking for the tag in anticipation of my suspicions, to find that yes, indeed, it is an authentic Missoni from its Studio 54 heyday. Perhaps to many an ugly vestige of disco sensibilities, I know I’ve found a gem. I rush to try it on in the makeshift dressing room (read: a stall in the women’s restroom).

As I slip my arms through the thin sleeves and button up the front, I feel the Missoni story wash over me. Suddenly, it’s not raining outside, I’m not in London, and it’s not even October. Instead, I’m wearing nothing but the cardigan and a teeny bikini bottom on a beach in the south of France in 1975. On a much-needed vacation after a hazy summer in glittery cocktail dresses and bouncing from gallery shows to club nights and sleeping until noon, the ease of the sporty cardigan is both a welcome respite and a nod to the “haute-bohéme” sensibilities of the fashionable upper crust. Despite the dim lighting and grey walls of the bathroom stall everything in room seems just a bit brighter.

As I exit the stall to see myself in the mirror, a woman trying on a billowing skirt looks at me and gushes, “Oh, you look just like one of those teeny girls in the 70’s! They’re the only ones who could pull that off.” I thank her, and return to the stall, dizzy with styling ideas for the cardigan: paired with old 501 jeans and a glittery sandal; draped open over a tissue-thin tank top; tied up in the center with a long, silk skirt; tucked into white linen shorts with tall gladiator sandals…it’s a feeling with which I’m not unfamiliar on these sorts of fashion journeys: When discovering something old makes everything in my closet somehow feel new again.

Feeling affirmed in my choice and excited about my warm-weather outfit prospects, I return to the vendor to see what kind of damage my wallet will have to take. To my utter surprise and delight, she says, “That one’s 22 pounds. Do you need a bag?” Feeling as though I’ve just gotten away with something illegal, I hand her a £20 note and two coins and shove the cardigan into my now only mostly-empty tote.

After a few more perusals and purchases, I leave the fair just a few minutes before it’s set to close. Exhilarated by my finds, I ride the high of the successful fashion-hunter all the way down the road to a café. As I sit down and take off my coat, I run my hand over my head. Shocked, I realize the piece of scrap silk I had worn as a headband that day has fallen off. Looking around me, I figure out that it must have come off while trying on some clothes at the fair. I resign myself to the karmic balance of it all: just as a lovely garment enters my life, so something else must go. Nothing left to say but, “Frock Me!”

Dissertation Discussion: Nelleke

What is the working title of your dissertation?

Currently my working title is ‘“Embroidered in Dyes”: Fabrics and Fashions by the Footprints Textile Printing Workshop in London 1925–1939’.

What led you to choose this subject?

Our amazing tutor Rebecca Arnold informed me about the Joyce Clissold and Footprints archive at the Central Saint Martins because she knew I am particularly interested in textiles and the making of dress. I visited this archive in February and immediately fell in love with the Footprints designs and Joyce Clissold’s work as a designer-craftswoman. I especially appreciate the broad perspective on fashion that the archive gave me, as it contains a wide range of objects that illustrate the diverse processes of designing, making, advertising and retailing of fabrics as well as garments. In the course of the research process, I became more and more intrigued by the creative activity of the many individuals and loosely knit groups of craftsmen and -women in London in the 1920s and 1930s. It would be a dream to continue my research in this exciting field.

Figure 2: Footprints blouse from the Joyce Clissold / Footprints collection at Central Saint Martins

Favorited book/article you’ve read for your dissertation so far and why?

I could spend hours at the British Library reading the beautifully-designed journal The Town Crier. Issued by the Merchant Adventurers in London from 1921, this journal was full of interesting crafts-related articles and advertisements, as well as for instance job requests and vacancies by or aimed at established or aspiring craftspeople. The journal was printed on this nice, thick paper. I enjoy just leafing through it, read all the fun ads, and explore interwar London in my mind.

Figure 3: Two pages from the January 1926 edition of The Town Crier.

Favorited image/object in your dissertation and why?

I think I already gave my favourite images away in my last blog, as I love both the cover of the Footprints leaflet and the photograph of Joyce Clissold wearing a scarf of her own design.

But perhaps I can share my favourite ‘object’ with you. It is a reference in British Vogue’s 17 May 1933 issue to the Footprints shop that was located in New Bond Street. After spending almost two days at the British Library, leafing page-by-page through 1930s issues without any previous indication or even guarantee that I would find anything relating to Footprints, I could hardly suppress my euphoria when I actually found a short reference in the magazine’s regular shopping column. I felt like a kind of dress historian-detective…

Favorited place to work?

The most beautiful place to work is the National Art Library at the Victoria and Albert Museum. It is my dream library. It reminds me of that library in Disney’s animated film Beauty and the Beast. But I also enjoy drinking coffee whilst working, for which I often go to Bloomsbury Coffee House at Tavistock Place.

By Nelleke Honcoop

“Embroidered in Dyes” – Fabrics and Fashions by Footprints from the Gunnersbury Museum Collection

Dissertation time has come for us MA students. My research on Footprints, a London-based fabric printing workshop active during the interwar years, has led me to Gunnersbury Museum, a local history museum based in Gunnersbury Park, London. While the museum is currently closed for renovation, the curators were kind enough to let me research their small but exciting collection of Footprints artefacts.

Footprints was established at Durham Wharf, Hammersmith in 1925. It produced hand block printed fabrics and garments which were sold at Modern Textiles, a small shop opened by Elspeth Anne Little at 46 Beauchamp Place, Knightsbridge in 1926.

Footprints was mainly staffed by female art students or recent graduates of the Central School of Arts and Crafts. It was initially run by Gwen Pike, a painting and block printing graduate of Birmingham School of Art. After Pike’s death in 1929 the workshop was taken over by Joyce Clissold, who had previously worked at Footprints as a Central School student. Clissold did most of the designing and carving of the lino blocks, while her employees prepared the dyes and did the printing.

Clissold eventually opened a shop called Footprints at 94 New Bond Street in 1933, followed by a second shop at 22 Knightsbridge in 1935. Both shops were located in London’s fashionable West End and attracted celebrity customers such as the actresses Yvonne Arnaud, Gracie Fields and Anna Neagle.

At Footprints, one could purchase lengths of hand block printed and painted fabrics, or small ready-made items such as scarves, shawls or hats. Customers who desired custom-made garments had their measurements were taken by ‘Madame Blanche’ – the working name of the in-house dressmaker Mrs. White.

Footprints jacket dating from the 1930s with ‘Huntsmen’ design in black and red on unbleached linen. At Gunnersbury Park. Photograph: Nelleke Honcoop
etail of ‘Huntsmen’ jacket. Photograph: Nelleke Honcoop

The Shawl of her Dreams!

Footprints also advertised their fabric painting and printing services directly to dressmakers, which I discovered through an early publicity leaflet I came across in Gunnersbury Museum’s collection. In the leaflet, Footprints’ fabrics were described as “embroidered in dyes”. They were hand block printed and painted in “lovely colours, vivid or demure; designs flamboyant or modest”. For even more novelty and exclusiveness, the dressmaker’s own design could be carried out by Footprints.

The leaflet’s cover is gorgeously illustrated with a printed design of a fashionably short-haired lady. Seen from the back, she wears a fringed shawl with a bold floral design in blue, green, pink and purple. The illustration reminded me of a photograph from the Central Saint Martins Museum and Study Collection, which is the largest collection of Joyce Clissold and Footprints artefacts. In this photograph taken around 1927 Joyce Clissold poses wearing a shawl of her own design.

Joyce Clissold wearing a shawl of her own design, c. 1927. At the Central Saint Martins Museum and Study Collection. Photocopy: © Central Saint Martins Museum and Study Collection.

Finally, the leaflet conjured up a scene at a dressmaker’s establishment where the customer, or “Madame”, lays her eyes on just the perfect addition to her wardrobe: “That five minutes in the showroom on the way to be fitted. That’s when Madame’s eye roves… The SHAWL of her dreams! The SCARF that just goes with the tailor-made. The irresistible little COAT. The intriguing POCHETTE. She falls to it so gladly”.

Oh, imagine how it must feel to find your dream shawl, or any other kind of garment you wish to add to your wardrobe, embroidered in dyes of lovely colours…

Detail of cover of Footprints leaflet, undated. At Gunnersbury Museum. Photograph: Nelleke Honcoop

By Nelleke Honcoop

Further reading:

Clark, Hazel. ‘Joyce Clissold and the “Footprints” Textile Printing Workshop’. In Women Designing: Redefining Design in Britain Between the Wars, edited by Jill Seddon and Suzette Worden, 82–88. Brighton: University of Brighton, 1994.

Gunnersbury Museum is currently closed for renovation, but will reopen in June 2018. See:

Dead Stock Dream Shop: A Visit to the Hodson Shop Archive in Walsall

During our study trip week I travelled to Walsall in the West Midlands, England, to visit the Walsall Museum’s Hodson Shop archive. This archive consists of the unsold stock of the Hodson Shop. This small draper’s and haberdasher’s shop was opened in 1920 by the twenty-nine-year-old Edith Hodson in the front room of the Hodson family’s home in the industrial town of Willenhall. Edith’s younger sister, Flora, joined the business in 1927, while their older brother Edgar ran a lock factory from the courtyard. After the death of both Edith and Edgar, Flora continued to run the shop until the early 1970s. The abandoned shop stock was discovered in 1983, after Flora’s death, and was passed on to Walsall Museum, where it is now curated by the lovely Catherine Lister.

Sheila B. Shreeve, who has meticulously catalogued the collection of over 3000 dress items, was working as a volunteer at Walsall Museum at the time of the shop’s discovery. Shreeve’s description of her first encounter with the abandoned shop pretty much sounds like the stuff my dreams are made of: “Imagine my delight when I first entered the front room of the locksmith’s house and found it to have been a draper’s shop. Boxed were piled haphazardly on flimsy shelves, slim and elegant leather gloves were strewn across the floor. On the oak counter was a display box which revealed rolls of shimmering silk ribbons abandoned when superseded first by rayon ones and then by nylon” (Shreeve, 82).

As Shreeve points out, the collection of unsold garments, dating from the 1920s to the early 1960s, would have been worn “by the ordinary men, woman and children in the street”, the local working-class and lower middle-class. (Shreeve, 82-83). By looking at the Hodson Shop archive one gains a fascinating insight into the ‘everyday’ life of the non-elite in the West Midlands area in England.

Besides women’s, men’s and children’s clothing, the collection also contains haberdashery items, dressmaking and needlework magazines, cosmetics, and household goods. Moreover, boxes of printed items, such as warehouse and other supplier catalogues and leaflets, give an insight in the business side of the shop.

Spring 1931 catalogue cover from Wilkinson & Riddell Ltd., retail drapers from Birmingham. Hodson Shop collection, Walsall Museum. Photograph: Nelleke Honcoop

What I absolutely loved about my visit was to see the way this collection has been catalogued. Besides giving a dense, detailed description of the style, material and size, Shreeve has made a small drawing depicting the garment, with relevant details such as pleats, pockets, or fabric print. These drawings give a wonderful visual overview of the collection, and also show fashion’s changing silhouette over time.

Descriptions and drawings of 1920s dresses (left) and 1940s dresses (right) by Sheila Shreeve for Hodson Shop catalogue record. Hodson Shop collection, Walsall Museum. Photograph: Nelleke Honcoop

Shreeve has added more ‘layers’ to this collection, as she has created a separate catalogue record card for each garment. Moreover, in the case of some garments, Shreeve has found cross-references in the form of advertisements in the warehouse catalogues. These advertisements give us additional information. For instance, a sleeveless blouse made of artificial silk was advertised in the Spring 1931 catalogue of Wilkinson & Riddell Ltd., a warehouse based in Birmingham. The blouse was available in the following colours: “ivory, sahara, champagne, nil, and powder”.

The artificial blouse that was advertised in the Wilkinson & Riddell catalogue for Spring 1931, and catalogue record card by Sheila Shreeve. Photograph: Nelleke Honcoop

Because the Hodson Shop collection is “dead stock”, as it was never sold to and used by consumers, the clothing I looked at was overall in a crisp and pristine condition. This dead stock condition fascinated me, as these were garments that were made to be worn, but never worn in the end. Even so, on the back of a beautiful navy blue crepe dress manufactured by Belcrepe from c. 1936, which had the original swing ticket still attached, I noticed an interesting pattern of discoloration caused by fading. This dress showed, in an almost eerie way, what time – and light – can do to a garment that has never been worn and has been stored away.

Navy blue crepe dress by Belcrepe (England) from c. 1936 with swing ticket “A Belcrepe Robe” (left). The fading is clearly visible on the back of the dress (right). Hodson Shop collection, Walsall Museum. Photograph: Nelleke Honcoop

By Nelleke Honcoop


Further reading:

Shreeve, Sheila B. ‘The Hodson Shop’. Costume 48, no. 1 (1 January 2014): 82–97.

Blog written by Jenny Evans about her PhD on the Hodson Shop:

Online database of the Hodson Shop:


An Everyday Machine: The Zipper, Technology and Fashion Change

An Everyday Machine: The Zipper, Technology and Fashion Change

We all know that catastrophic moment when the slider of our zipper derails and ends up on one side of the track, or worse: in our hands. It is equally frustrating when a piece of fabric from another garment or from the surrounding seam gets caught in the zipper’s teeth. In his book Zipper: An Exploration of Novelty, Robert Friedel describes the zipper as a machine – a carefully fitted piece of “metal and plastic that must move in close coordination under our control to exert forces to accomplish a simple but nevertheless sometimes vital task.” As Friedel argues, zippers are perhaps the first machines we all learn to master as a child. We tend to forget about our zippers until they malfunction. This illustrates that the zipper is an invisible but inescapable part of our daily life, and therefore this blogpost is dedicated to that everyday machine.

Invention and Development of the Zipper

To begin from the start: the zipper (also: ‘zip,’ ‘zip fastener,’ or ‘slide fastener’) is a fastening device used in garments as an alternative to other types of fastenings such as buttons, hooks and eyes, or snap fasteners. The first ‘primitive’ zipper was invented in the United States in the early 1890s by the traveling salesman Whitcomb Judson, who tried to patent his idea for a ‘Clasp Locker or Unlocker’ for shoes in 1891. His patent claimed that shoe fastenings were “equally applicable for fastening gloves, mail-bags and generally, wherever it is desired to detachably connect a pair of adjacent flexible parts.” In 1893, this patent was granted, and the Universal Fastener Company was established in Chicago, Illinois.

Whitcomb Judson’s patent for a Shoe Fastening’ (1893)

Judson further developed his idea of an ‘automatic hook-and-eye,’ and renamed the company’s name to the Automatic Hook and Eye Company. One of the zippers that was developed, the ‘C-curity’ fastener (1902), had hooks on one side that were opposed by eyes on the other. It was promoted as a novelty, with advertisements that assured: “A pull and it’s done. No more open skirts… Your skirt is always securely and neatly fastened.” But this zipper did not function as well as promised and had to be perfected.

The ‘modern’ zipper was invented in 1913 by the Swedish-American electrical engineer Gideon Sundback, who concluded that the hook-and-eye model was not suitable for any kind of automatic fastener. Sundback introduced his ‘Hookless Fastener’ – which resembles the metal zipper we know today – and the Universal Fastener Company subsequently changed its name into the Hookless Fastener Company. The first zippers were mostly used in smaller items or garments, such as gloves or handbags. However, zippers did not enjoy a wide popularity at first, as both designers and makers of garments found them difficult to work with, and the zippers were relatively expensive in comparison to the other types of fasteners they had to replace.

Zipper Fashion

It was only in the 1930s that the zipper was gradually accepted as an element of both men’s and women’s clothing. This was stimulated by developments in the manufacturing of lighter metal and plastic zippers. Full acceptance of the zipper however depended upon its appearance in women’s high fashion collections. The Anglo-American couturier Charles James was among the first fashion designers to adopt and convert the zipper into a design feature. His Taxi dress (ca. 1932) featured a long zipper covered with an obvious placket that spiralled around the body.

Charles James, Taxi, ca. 1932, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Always eager to experiment with new materials and technologies, Parisian designer Elsa Schiaparelli extensively used zippers not merely as closures but as colourful ornaments, for instance in her Winter 1935-36 collection. In her autobiography Shocking Life, ‘Schiap’ boasted that what had upset the “poor, breathless reporters” the most that season, was her daring, and as she herself claimed ‘first’ use of the zipper: “Not only did [zippers] appear for the first time but in the most unexpected places, even on evening clothes. The whole collection was full of them. Astounded buyers bought and bought. They had come prepared for every kind of strange button. But they were not prepared for zips.”

Zippered Up Tight: The Magic of the Zipper

Zippers began to appear widely in high fashion collections in 1937 along with the narrower silhouette that was fashionable that year. The Hookless Fastener Company, which had changed its name to Talon Inc. in early 1937, advertised in Vogue’s June 1937 issue: “Sleekness is the thing for summer – Talon fastener is the thing for sleekness”.

And in its 8 November 1937 issue, LIFE reported that “Now Everything’s Zippers.” The magazine commented that in connection to that year’s fashionable narrow silhouettes, fashion writers had invented a new “mumbo jumbo”, as terms such as “pencil-slim,” “molded silhouette” and “poured-in look” had become stock phrases. “Behind them all was the suggestion that by the magic of the zipper, plumpish women could attain a svelte figure”. The article featured a photograph of New York socialite Nancy White wearing a dressy, fox-trimmed ‘Zipper Coat.’ The winter coat was a Lord & Taylor copy of a design by Edward Molyneux, shown in Paris in early August 1937, that was claimed to have started a vogue for full-length zippers on coats and dresses. Therefore, by the late 1930s, the fashion world seemed to be finally ready for the ‘magic of the zipper.’

By Nelleke Honcoop

Sources and further reading:

“Advertisement: Hookless Fastener Co. (Hookless Fastener Co.)”, Vogue 89, no. 11 (01 June 1937): 12-13. ProQuest: The Vogue Archive.

Friedel, Robert. Zipper: An Exploration in Novelty. London and New York: W.W. Norton, 1994.

James, Charles. Taxi, ca. 1932, wool and synthetic, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. (Photograph © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). Accessed 17 February 2018.

Judson, Whitcomb. Patent for Shoe Fastening (Patent No. 504,037).Patented 29 August 1893 US504037A. United States Patent Office.

“Now Everything’s Zippers: Style Demand Outruns the Supply”, LIFE 3, no. 19 (8 November 1937): 54-56.

Schiaparelli, Elsa. Shocking Life: The Autobiography of Elsa Schiaparelli. [J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd, 1954]. London: V&A Publications, 2007, pp. 87-88.

Tortora, Phyllis G. Dress, Fashion and Technology:  From Prehistory to the Present. Dress, Body, Culture. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2015.

Travelling on the Ocean Liner in the 1920s

During my Christmas break at home in the Netherlands, I visited the TextielMuseum, located in a former textile factory in the city of Tilburg, in order to view their recently opened exhibition, JAZZ AGE | Fashion & Photographs. Organised by the Fashion and Textile Museum in London, this exhibition aims to show the variety of dress available to the modern woman and the completely new way of dressing that symbolised her new-found freedom and active lifestyle in the period after the First World War. The exhibition showcases more than 150 haute couture and ready-to-wear garments dating from 1919 to 1929 in different settings such as ‘In the Boudoir,’ ‘Tennis Match,’ and ‘Chinatown After Dark.’ As might be expected from a dress and textiles enthusiast, I was swooning in front of the quintessential fringed and beaded drop-waist flapper dresses and sumptuously embroidered velvet evening capes one would have worn for a night out.

The current exhibition at the TextielMuseum seems to have a slightly different design than the exhibition that was staged in London (see the excellent review written last year by former MA student Sophie Assouad). Instead of writing another review, I have chosen to focus on a specific display in this exhibition that sparked my interest because it gave me a fresh perspective on this particular period in fashion history.

Conjuring the scene of a steamboat’s deck, ‘On the Ocean Liner’ takes the visitor beyond the notion of the 1920s as a decade of glamourous nightlife and the familiar flapper dress. It does so by showcasing daytime and leisurewear suitable for the journey aboard an ocean liner on its way to a sunny destination.

Lounging in a rotan chair to the left is a mannequin wearing a simple, cream-coloured tunic dress with a jacket in the same colour, both dating from c. 1924–25. While the dress has been made from silk, the jacket’s material, interestingly, is ‘rayon’, a man-made fibre made from chemically treated cellulose. Generally known as ‘artificial silk,’ this material was first developed in the late nineteenth century but only became widely available from the 1920s onwards. The fibre was officially renamed rayon in 1924 through an industry-sponsored contest with the aim to counter the frequent associations with artificiality or inferiority to natural silk. Rayon grew in popularity as it provided women from all backgrounds the ability to wear certain garments that were previously reserved only for those who could afford to buy silk.

My favourite ensemble in this arrangement is a simple, but chic, striped dress with pockets and pleats made from silk that dates from c. 1922–23. This dress combines comfort and freedom of movement with elegance and is reminiscent of the silhouette and style of clothing designed by Coco Chanel.

Detail of the display showing my favourite dress to the left. To the right, a cotton swimsuit in herringbone pattern. Photo: Nelleke Honcoop

Moving to the right, the eye meets a group of mannequins wearing boldly-coloured, Art Deco-patterned beach pyjamas and loose, kimono-inspired dresses worn over cotton swimsuits. This group hints at a day spent swimming – or perhaps lounging and sunbathing at the pool, cultivating the tanned skin that was promoted by Chanel and became popular during this decade.

Top and trousers, c.1925, cotton. A pyjama inspired two-piece reflecting the contemporary vogue for wearing pyjamas as lounge wear in, as well as outside, the confines of the boudoir. © Photo Tessa Hallman. Collection Cleo and Mark Butterfield

 ‘On the Ocean Liner’ addresses how swimming became popular among women in the second half of the decade when American competition swimmer Gertrude Ederle (1905 –2003) became the first woman to swim across the Channel in 1926. A cotton swimsuit in a herringbone pattern with a subtly integrated skirt is used to illustrate the active lifestyle and freedom of movement of modern women during the 1920s. I particularly enjoyed the attention given to materials and construction details, such as the contrasting cuffs of a cotton swimsuit that were not only a chic addition, but also helped to keep it in shape when immersed in water.

Finally, by focusing on 1920s women’s fashion from the angle of sports, leisure, and travel, ‘On the Ocean Liner’ felt like an inspiring warm up to the Victoria & Albert Museum’s upcoming exhibition Ocean Liners: Speed & Style, which will explore the golden age of ocean travel around the world.

By Nelleke Honcoop

JAZZ AGE | Fashion & Photographs is on display at the TextielMuseum, Tilburg, The Netherlands, until 27 May 2018. See:

Ocean Liners: Speed & Style will be on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum from 3 February – 10 June 2018. See:


Wintertime Winds Blow Cold This Season: Winter Wear in Art-Goût-Beauté

The title of my blogpost is derived from a song by The Doors called “Wintertime Love,” released in 1968 on their album Waiting for the Sun. It is a favourite song of mine, as it always gets me in a wintery mood. Born in January, I have always been fond of the winter season – even more so after living in Norway for two years. I enjoy winter wear and I spend time knitting myself warm jumpers throughout the year, mainly using old patterns from the 1940s and 1950s. I love the view of mountaintops covered in snow, and enjoy going snowboarding whenever I can. However, I was born in the wrong place, as the Netherlands is a very flat country. Sadly, the wintery ice skating scenes with warmly-dressed-up people, known from oil paintings such as Hendrick Avercamp’s Winter Landscape with Ice Skaters (c. 1608), have also become a rare sight.

Therefore, this Christmas break I will dream away to the above illustration of a woman set against the backdrop of falling snow. It is winter, 1926. The woman is depicted in profile in a stylised manner. Her head is fashionably covered. She sports a dark blue shawl and white gloves with a light blue trimming; all to protect her from the cold winter weather.

This elegant illustration is from the cover of the February 1926 issue of Art-Goût-Beauté Feuillets de L’Élégance Féminine, a fashion periodical published in Paris between November 1921 and 1933. The successor of a short-lived magazine called Succès d’Art Goût Bon Ton, the magazine derived its initials from Albert Godde Beddin et Cie, a textile manufacturer and publisher established in Lyon in 1867. The decorative endleaves of the magazine originate from textile designs of this company, with the name and number of each pattern noted in a small inset.

Each page of Art-Goût-Beauté is a delight to look at. The magazine’s title, which translates to ‘Art, Good Taste, Beauty, Pages of Feminine Elegance,’ signals the magazine’s coverage of elegant and luxurious creations of Parisian couturiers, such as Drecoll, Patou, Poiret and Worth. Using the highly refined, hand-stencilling and painting technique known as pochoir, Art-Goût-Beauté brought these couturiers’ fashions to the contemporary reader seeking the latest fashion inspiration and advice.

Winter Wear: From Active Sportswear to Festive Evening Wear

For instance, in its January 1924 issue, Art-Goût-Beauté mentions the pleasures of winter sports such as luging, skiing, and bobsleighing for dauntless sportswomen. Moreover, an advertisement for Tunmer in its Christmas 1928 issue depicts ensembles appropriate for ice skating and skiing.

The magazine stresses that the sporty 1920s  women can still find a way to look nice both outside in the wintry landscape and in the cozy indoors. For example, they might change their sportswear for a more formal evening look, such as ‘Gabette’ by Jean Patou, or ‘Grande Passion’ by Gustav Beer pictured below. The latter, a black and beige dress with flounces, is made of fabric from Albert Godde Beddin et Cie.

Illustration of ‘Gabette’, created by Jean Patou, and ‘Grande Passion’, created by Gustav Beer. Art-Goût-Beauté Feuillets de L’Élégance Féminine., January 1924, vol. 4, issue 41, p. 12.

Find more of these beautiful fashion illustrations from Art-Goût-Beauté  via “Rijksstudio”, the online database of the collection of Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

By Nelleke Honcoop


Retrieved via “Rijksstudio”, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam,

For further reading on pochoir:

Calahan, April, and Cassidy Zachary. Fashion and the Art of Pochoir: The Golden Age of Illustration in Paris. Thames & Hudson, 2015.

Dress History: The story of Corrie in her parachute silk blouse, ca. 1943

A black-and-white photograph captures a young woman posed against a plain backdrop, smiling confidently. She wears a blouse made of a seemingly light-coloured fabric. The blouse’s gathered sleeves end just above her elbows, and its yoke appears to be punctuated by small dots in five horizontal rows. The handwritten caption under this photograph, found glued into an album, not only identifies this young woman, but also ‘identifies’ the blouse by revealing its materials and how it was made. Moreover, it reveals that this woman is both the wearer and the maker of the garment. Originally in Dutch, the caption states: ‘Corrie in self-made blouse with smocking in parachute fabric from English aviator’.

‘Corrie’, short for ‘Cornelia’, is my maternal grandmother. She was born in 1925 as the eldest daughter and the third of six children. Her family lived in a small village in the south of the Netherlands. As a young girl, Corrie learned how to sew. Decades later, I remember Corrie, known to me as my grandmother, as having an eye for the intricate details of clothing – the quality of the material, the cut, the construction and the finish. Her appreciation of and interest in textiles and clothing, and how to make them, must have been hereditary. It runs like a thread through my family, from my grandmother to my aunts and mother, to my younger sister and me.

Before she married my grandfather Nel in 1950, my grandmother completed commissioned pieces in addition to making clothes for herself and her family. However, because of the years of textile rationing during the Second World War, none of her original pieces have remained. The earliest surviving self-made garment is her wedding dress, which after her death in 2011 was passed on to my mother. The blouse she wears in the aforementioned black and white photograph has disappeared. I did not even know about its existence until a few months ago, when I discovered this photograph in a photo album compiled by my grandmother’s younger sister, Nellie.

I brought it to our ‘Documenting Fashion’ seminar on ‘History and Memory,’ for which we had to bring a personal dress-related object. I had read before about garments made of so-called ‘parachute silk’ during and right after the Second World War. For instance, Dominique Veillon, in her book Fashion under the Occupation (2002), writes about the case of Vichy-France (1940–1944). During shortages of clothing and its raw materials, “any piece of cloth or the like was a godsend.” Veillon points to the emergence of a “fairly widespread fashion” for clothing made out of parachute silk among women close to the Resistance, even though this was risky because it revealed one’s links with the Resistance and the Allied Forces.[1] And Julie Summers in her book Fashion on the Ration (2016) about wartime fashion in Britain, writes: “Almost every woman who was alive at the time remembers either acquiring some [parachute] silk or having seen a garment made from it, and it was indeed considered to be a wartime luxury.” [2] However, Summers notes that “[a]lthough so many people claim to have had parachute silk, few can remember how to acquire it.”[3]

After finding the photograph of my grandmother, the stories about parachute silk garments suddenly became more personal. My grandmother, still a young girl during Germany’s occupation of the Netherlands (1940–1945), at some point had acquired parachute silk and made it into a blouse for herself and, as a second photograph of Nellie confirms, for her sisters (Figure 2). A handwritten comment on a piece of paper accompanying Nellie’s photograph states “1943?”, but this date remains unconfirmed.

Photograph of Nellie in a parachute silk blouse made. Foto Middendorp, Hilversum. Ca. 1943

I am currently trying to unravel this history further. The only remaining source is Cileke, my grandmother’s youngest sister. The story goes that the fabric for these blouses was salvaged from the parachute of an English aviator shot down not too far away from where my grandmother’s family lived. Having an uncle active in the Dutch Resistance might possibly explain how my grandmother managed to acquire such material. I would love to learn more about this material’s status in the specific context of the Netherlands during the Second World War. Was it forbidden to own this material? Was it dangerous to wear a garment made of it during the occupation?

The photograph of my grandmother in her parachute silk blouse has evoked many questions; some are broader, relating to wartime history, and others are personal, relating to my family’s personal history. Unravelling dress-related (and family) history can be hard when time has passed and the wearer is not alive anymore, and indeed, even the garment is gone. Nevertheless, this photograph makes me feel connected to my family. And although black-and-white, it adds more colour and depth to a topic that I have been interested in for a while, namely dress during the Second World War.

By Nelleke Honcoop

[1] Dominique Veillon, Fashion under the Occupation (Oxford: Berg, 2002), 137–38.

[2] Julie Summers, Fashion on the Ration: Style in the Second World War (London: Profile Books, 2016), 137.

[3] Summers, 138.