Author Archives: Rosie

Fanny Bury Palliser, History of Lace (1869)

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 16.10.39


Fanny Bury Palliser’s History of Lace traces the development of needlework from its earliest references in the Old Testament to those in the late nineteenth century. The author documents the inception of lace as primarily an extension of needlework and embroidery, before noting how lace was differentiated according to country and region, as well as placed in a hierarchy, in order of preference by the Monarch in power at the time.

At the time of print, 1869, little information could be gathered from secondary sources, because earlier research scarcely existed. As a result, Palliser argued that ‘wardrobe accounts, household bills, and public Acts were the most truthful guides,’ to use in order to trace the history of lace. In light of this, the book is filled with public documents that Palliser had been granted access to in the Imperial and Records archives. Accompanying the text are black-and-white and coloured engravings, which highlight the existing variations of lace, and demonstrate how lace was incorporated within the composition of a person’s clothing. Therefore, dress is attended to within the content of the text through the featured engravings.

The front cover – a gold-coloured engraving of a woman in a heavily embroidered gown from 1676, indicates how the book relates lace to dress and femininity. Palliser clarified that, although needlework was not solely confined to females, ‘every woman, had to make one shirt in her lifetime.’ As demonstrated by the engraving, the woman created her own embroidery as well. This engraving reinforces how lace has been considered in the past, as well as the present, as a favourite embellishment and decorative trimming to add to clothing.


Palliser’s History of Lace can still be considered relevant to dress history now, because it is the first to provide the reader with such a rich and varied historiography of embroidery, and therefore demonstrates how far needlework had evolved over earlier centuries. For example, Palliser explained in the text how past laces had derived from the name and function of passament. As the workmanship was improved and the passament became enriched with various designs, the resulting development became what we now refer to as lace.

Examples of this evolution are depicted within the beautifully clear engravings used throughout the book. These designs not only afford the reader an encounter with visual samples, but ultimately serve to present a comparison between the different variations of needlework that exist, and how these can be identified and considered, based upon the distinctions between region or country of manufacture.

Although the book only follows the chronology of the design up until its year of publication in 1869, the in-depth account is still hugely relevant for research purposes today, because of the vast historical period it covers. Palliser’s research identifies the Industrial Revolution as the main turning point for lace manufacturing. This period saw profound change, most notably, the introduction of ‘machinery lace’ in Nottingham. This brought lace within the reach of a wider range of classes and, remains the main method of its production today. Therefore, The History of Lace is still an important text for dress historians, because it charts the production of lace up to the point when it switched from a handcraft to one powered by machinery.

MA Study Trip to New York City: The Museum at FIT

In February the MA History of Dress students had a week long study trip to New York to visit archives and museums. The next six posts will share various aspects of the trip and the objects we saw. 

Part of the Yves Saint Laurent and Halston: Fashioning the '70s exhibition.
Part of the Yves Saint Laurent and Halston: Fashioning the ’70s exhibition.
A Halston dress from the Fashioning the ’70s exhibition.

On a recent study trip to New York, the MA group were invited to an Alumni event at The Museum at FIT. Emma McClendon, who graduated from the Courtauld in 2011 is now an assistant curator at FIT, hosted the event, which was an exhibition she had co-curated: Yves Saint Laurent and Halston: Fashioning the 70s. The exhibition is the first to examine the careers and work of two of the biggest designers in 20th century fashion side-by-side. As both Saint Laurent’s and Halston’s designs came to exemplify, the 1970s has been considered a ‘singular and dynamic era in fashion history,’ and was also a decade framed by three themes which inspired the designers’ collections: menswear, exoticism, and vintage historicism.

When entering the space, the clothing is separated into platforms and pods.  The clothing on the platforms framed the pods, and also demonstrated how the designer’s visions and approaches to dress resulted in very similar outcomes, often indistinguishable from one another. Whereas, running through the middle of the exhibition space the pods established the juxtapositions between the designers, through the three themes and really showcased the differences, particularly towards the end of the decade. This was especially highlighted in the last pod, which was dedicated toward the influence of historical referencing upon the designers.

Saint Laurent was heavily influenced by fashions of the Belle Époque, which can be seen in some of his more feminine, yet, dramatic creations. He also drew upon the trend for vintage dressing, which had been emerging on the streets of Paris at the time. On the other hand, Halston was enamoured by the Hollywood glamour of the smaller time period of the 1930s and 1940s. He looked to women couturiers that had dominated high fashion during the inter-war period as sources of inspiration for his own pieces. Here, the identities of the two designers are really established.  For me, the third section really solidified the vocabularies of both designers as Halston became known as ‘the streamlined, unisex, minimalist,’ whilst Saint Laurent became ‘the fantastical colourist.’

This streamlined and minimalistic nature of Halston’s creations is effortlessly captured in the construction of the blue evening dress shown in the accompanying image. Made in 1972, the dress was gifted to the museum by Lauren Bacall. The blue, silk jersey dress features two long bands of fabric that can be tied in various ways to show the amount of skin desired. The fabric is what makes the dress, there are no obvious decorative elements, for example no buttons or zips can be seen, even as closures. This is because Halston did not believe in his clothes as having any ‘ostentatious decorative elements’ to them, and looked toward the inspiration of designers, such as Madeleine Vionnet and Claire McCardell for this more streamlined approach. This look also drew influence from 1930s bathing suits. In this respect, Halston appropriated the silhouettes of daytime swimwear and turned them into eveningwear ensembles.


‘Honour, Valour and Truth.’


Last month saw London Collections: Men (LCM) open the doors to its biggest and most impressive event to date. Unveiling the AW15 Menswear collection signalled the organisation’s sixth consecutive year, as well as an exciting start to 2015 for London Fashion. This four-day event included a host of returning global brands such as Alexander McQueen, Burburry Prorsum, Moschino, Paul Smith, and Tom Ford, as well as some new additions: Barbour, Coach and Todd Lynn.

Many of these brands demonstrate innovative takes on various iconic British styles, assuring that particular looks have become mainstays within international menswear collections. An element of this recycling was especially prevalent throughout the Alexander McQueen show.

The opening outfits had more of a punk feel than the later influence of military styling. Edgy models donned pinstriped suits labelled with the bold slogans– ‘honour,’ ‘valour,’ and ‘truth’, delivering the narrative, as well as the historical theme for the show.

Designed by creative director Sarah Burton, the collection this year was inspired by the theme of military uniforms:

‘It is sometimes forgotten that the uniform is a testament to equality. At work and at war, the dress uniform has long stood as a symbol that all men are equal in the face of duty – sharing equal honour, valour, and truth.’

Uniform is defined as a prescribed set of clothes identifying members of an organisation. Therefore, it is a testament to equality because all persons within a party are united in their purpose, demonstrated by what they are wearing. Subsequently, they merge together as one unit, serving a combined goal in the face of duty and sharing, as well as exhibiting, equal amounts of honour, valour and truth, as a result. Yet, uniform can also be conceived as a testament to differentiating between organisations. For example, in military terms, on the battlefield the German army would have been wearing a different uniform to the British. As a result, the armies were identified and distinguished from one another through their clothing.

Alexander McQueen’s AW15 menswear collection can be understood as a uniform symbolic of British history and heritage. Burton’s concoction of double-breasted jackets and saddlebag pockets mixed with earthy palettes of Khaki greens recalls the British military uniform. Moreover, the inclusion of the vibrant red floral printed velour suits create connections with the one hundred year anniversary of the First World War, which was commemorated last November. Further to this, the Savile row style tailoring, pinstriped suits and shiny brogues pay homage to traditional British styles and conceptions by serving as evidence for how certain looks have become mainstays within Menswear fashions over the years.


Cosmetics: Women’s Freedom in a Tube

Elizabeth Arden advertisement, Pinpoints, 1939.
Elizabeth Arden advertisement, Pinpoints, 1939.

The inter-war period signalled a time of change for many women as they were granted more responsibility within society. As more women inhabited the office as a place of work during the 1930s, a new sense of freedom was also occurring. Women were now smoking in public, going to parties at weekends without a chaperone and increasing numbers were using makeup. As a result, the interwar period was a turning point for women, with regards to their changing appearances as well as role within society.

Women were wearing and purchasing makeup on a wider scale to change and perfect their appearances during the 1930s. Although widespread availability of make up and other beautification products were available during the flapper era of the 1920s, by the 1930s makeup had become integral to self-expression. Furthermore, as Kathy Peiss highlighted, makeup also contributed to the belief that identity was a ‘purchasable style.’ The number of cosmetic advertisements dominating the pages of fashion magazines during the inter-war period contributes to this idea of a purchasable identity. In the Courtauld’s History of Dress archive, there is a rare fashion journal from 1939 called Pinpoints. The magazine’s first issue documented how its inception was based upon the need to widen the ‘closed circle of fashion,’ as well as the aim to ‘prove itself as an independent, amusing and original step towards the ideal.’ In this respect, the ‘ideal’ woman embraces the necessity of using and purchasing makeup. The accompanying image is an Elizabeth Arden advertisement from 1939. The image is a black and white illustration portraying a fragmented sculpture of the head and neck. What is especially unique about this specific advertisement is how the viewer can physically interact and engage with it. The reader is encouraged to turn the wheel on the page behind the advert in order to display alternative colour groupings of rouge and lipstick, altering the colour combination shown. There is a sense of what the vital ingredients for constructing a fashionable and proper identity of the face are in Elizabeth Arden’s eyes. In this respect, the aim of the advertisement is to reach out to Arden’s target market by highlighting how separate looks can be constructed with different coloured groupings of cosmetics. The missing pieces of the sculpture highlight the fragile nature of faces and consequently reinforce the need for a beauty regime, which will preserve and take care of the face’s appearance. The fragmented sculpture also aligns ideas of craftsmanship and construction with the use of makeup on the face. Women have the freedom to build a lasting identity for themselves by purchasing cosmetics.

Yet, by purchasing additional cosmetics, a woman’s identity can also be altered in order to keep up-to-date with changing and seasonal trends. In this respect, the altering of identity is demonstrated through how women chose to decorate their faces with cosmetics. As a result, women changing and controlling their appearances through the use of cosmetics demonstrated their newfound freedom in the 1930s.


Peiss, K. Hope in a Jar: The Making of America’s Beauty Culture (Metropolitan Books, 1998).

The Memory Locket


Jewellery is a term that every woman – and man – will recognise. It is how we, as individuals, are able to supplement our bodies through personal adornment with these small and often decorative items. Personalising our bodies can visually communicate to other people about our lives and circumstances. For example, the tradition of wearing a wedding ring is identified with the fourth finger of the left hand. The wedding ring is a sentiment to love, but can also indicate wealth based upon the elaborateness of the materials and stones used. The wedding ring is therefore a clear indicator of one’s marital status. However, one piece of visible jewellery that can be recognised as bearing a more sentimental and personal relationship to its wearer is the memory locket.

My memory locket is the one piece of jewellery I wear daily. It had previously belonged to my biological grandmother, after being presented as a gift from her closest friend on her wedding day. Such a gift can be recognised as celebratory because it provides a tangible memory and link to the couple’s marriage. This aspect of the tangible memory reflects Elizabeth Wilson’s focus on the idea of acknowledging clothing as ‘congealed memories.’ Wilson’s idea can especially be applied to the function of the memory locket with regards to storing photographs. The opening of the locket reveals the place where two photographs were kept: one of my grandmother and the other of my grandfather. Although the image of my grandfather remains in tact, unfortunately the image of my grandmother has disintegrated over the years. A sense of intimacy is created between the wearer and the locket when realising that photographs of family members are stored inside. This intimacy is further heightened with where the locket is worn. Lockets are generally worn on chains around the neck and so are kept very close to the wearer’s body, and especially the heart, further expressing the intimacy and sentimental relationship between locket and wearer.

The original function of the locket was to remember and honour the couples wedding day. However, once the locket changed hands, the sentiment changed. I had not known my biological grandparents, for they had died shortly after their marriage in 1960. Furthermore, when the locket came into my possession, it served more of a funerary purpose. Therefore, these changing sentiments can be considered as integral to connecting with the narratives of the past wearers. As a result, the memory locket can be understood as encapsulating the overlap of layers of memories based upon its history and relationship to the wearer.

Elizabeth Wilson. Adorned in Dreams – Fashion and Modernity (London, 2003)