Author Archives: rrrubyredstone

Fashioning Femininity (and Making Masculinity) in the Post-War Era

When we think about the twenty years immediately following the Second World War in Britain, what images instantly spring to mind? Smiling women in glamorous dresses, feather duster in hand, happily making home for hardworking husbands and clean, grinning children. This construct of woman as a glamorous housewife in the 1950s is one of the most well-known images in the modern consciousness. Whatever our opinions of it, it is all-pervasive; on posters, cards and throughout the media. But how did clothing, and its depiction in advertising, feed into these constructs of femininity? And how was masculinity constructed alongside and in relation to this?

Advert for Wolsey, Woman’s Own, Week Ending 19th March 1960, p.20

Domesticity was expressed in advertising as being a woman’s ‘job’. A Wolsey advert constructs the role of ‘man’ as breadwinner and ‘woman’ as homemaker and domestic purchaser as being objective facts. The advert is aimed at presumably female ‘fiancées’, stating: ‘Sooner or later… you will find yourself buying his socks. This is the job that will probably be yours from “I will” onwards’. Through this single garment of the sock the assumed roles of ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are expressed. ‘Woman’ here is constructed as residing within the domestic sphere, with mundane, everyday garments such as the sock being part of her everyday concerns. Furthermore, ‘man’ is presented here as being domestically incapable, unable to purchase even his own socks. His sharp suit, the uniform of the masculine breadwinner, further constructs him as residing in the public, rather than domestic, sphere.

Advert for Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Woman’s Own, Week Ending 3rd September 1960

While a woman’s concerns may have been mundane and domestic, her appearance certainly wasn’t. Countless advertisements show women in glamorous, flattering garments even while in the home. One advert for Kellogg’s depicts the idealised couple at the breakfast table. While the man is dressed in a suit for a day of work in the economic sphere, the woman is dressed in a house coat for her day of work in the domestic sphere. Her beautifully patterned house coat and perfectly styled hair and make-up suggest that being attractive is also an integral part of her role as housewife. Similarly, in an advert for Batchelors Peas, the mother is dressed very glamorously for a casual dinner-time. She is fully made up with red lipstick, ornate earrings and colourful clothing. Her garments are soft and flowing, following the idealised lines of the hourglass figure. She cuts a very bright figure against the father, who again wears the masculine staple of the suit.

Advert for Batchelors Peas, Woman, Week Ending 17th July 1955

By analysing adverts from this period, we observe a strictly traditional representation of ‘woman’; as beauty, housewife and mother. Meanwhile ‘man’ is constructed, equally traditionally, as breadwinner. These images show us a snapshot in history at a time in which advertisements were both constructing and reinforcing real-life ideals. We see domestic ‘woman’ and working ‘man’ idealised as safe, predictable constants in a world that was rapidly changing. These images depict the moment before the liberation movements of the 1960s changed the world, and particularly the female experience, beyond all recognition.

Learning About 1930s Style

Recently, as part of the Documenting Fashion MA, we visited the Night and Day: 1930s Fashion and Photographs exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum. The exhibition features many glamorous evening dresses set out in tableaux and a number of colourful day outfits laid out thematically, from holiday wear to work wear. I previously had little knowledge of 1930s styles as, in my experience, they have often been eclipsed in the popular consciousness by the more famous 1920s Flapper fashions or the ‘New Look’ hourglass designs of the mid-twentieth century. 1930s styles were simple and elegant, yet bold and playful, which is perhaps why many elements of fashion from this period have endured. At the exhibition, I was struck by how much of the day wear contained features which were previously, in my mind, associated with the 1970s; yellow, brown and orange colour combinations, floating fabrics, long skirts and fluted sleeves. Apparently, I was told by my course mates, this is because in the 1970s there was a popular trend towards vintage – particularly 1930s – clothing and styles. One garment which highlights this interrelation between 1930s fashions and later styles is a long summer dress made of fine, white cotton or chiffon, decorated with brightly coloured polka dots. The layered skirt and ruffled sleeves are striking yet elegant, and it is possible to see how such elements were reinterpreted in 1970s fashions. Furthermore, the delicate fabric and stylish pattern would not be out of place among summer garments today.

What also struck me about the 1930s dresses, particularly the evening gowns, was how figure-hugging they were, with silks – as well as newly invented synthetic silk-like fabrics, such as rayon – closely skimming the shape of the body. We were told by our guide that these garments were so tightly-fitted that no underwear could be worn with them as it would have shown through the thin silk and ruined the elegant sweep of the dress. It is unsurprising, therefore, that this trend for figure-hugging evening wear coincided with a vogue for fitness and health, which encouraged women to work towards the ‘ideal’ sporty body. This close-fitting style appears sensual and noticeably revealing even to the modern eye, displaying an attractive and alluring silhouette.  I love many of the garments in the exhibition, but one of my particular favourites is a beautiful, bright yellow silk gown with a subtle ruffle of fabric around the shoulders and bust. The colour is strikingly modern, reminiscent of the currently fashionable ‘Gen-Z Yellow’, and stands out even among the array of brightly coloured dresses. Another favourite is a peach gown which makes great use of the bias cut, popular in the 1930s, which meant that the fabric would have rippled gently down the body. The cut-out detailing on the back is reminiscent of Art Deco geometric patterns which were in fashion, particularly for home wear, during this period.

The 1930s fashions we saw in this exhibition are elegant, colourful and glamorous. They have a definite air of chic refinement but also utilise bold patterns and innovative styles which give them a sense of vibrant modernity. This fusion may be why elements of these styles have endured for nearly 100 years yet still appear modern today.

Photos by Lily-Evelina England and Jeordy Raines with permission from the Fashion and Textile Museum.

Fashion and Feminism: The Brand of the Suffragette

With the centenary of the Representation of the People Act being celebrated this year, images of the Suffragettes have been very much in the public consciousness. The banners, colour palette and clothing in these images are so recognisable to the modern eye that it can be easy to forget how consciously and painstakingly this identity was created; so much so, some historians have argued, that it amounts to a kind of early publicity campaign centred on the ‘brand’ of the Suffragette. The WSPU utilised colour, merchandise and clothing to publicise the ‘Votes for Women’ cause, counter-balance negative publicity and fit their cause into the rhetoric of the age.

The tricolour of the WSPU featured across all aspects of campaigning and became a powerful visual signifier of the suffrage movement, bringing cohesion to the campaign. White, green and purple – representing Purity, Hope and Dignity – highlighted the values of the Suffragette woman but also resonated with the wider social rhetoric of femininity as pure and virtuous. The extensive dissemination of merchandise was particularly innovative, creating a recognisable ‘brand’ and spreading understanding of the suffrage cause. Ties, badges, banners, sashes and waistbands were all available in the Suffragette colours, allowing members to take their political cause with them into their everyday lives, showing their solidarity and raising awareness.

Clothing was also central to the image of the women’s suffrage movement, and was employed by the WSPU to construct an image of the Suffragette which would encourage women to join the cause.  Edwardian cultural norms dictated that women should exist largely in the private sphere, as the ‘Angel in the House’.  Women who entered into the public sphere of political campaigning were widely ridiculed, with derogatory cartoons – depicting such women as masculine, ugly and unfit mothers – springing up across the media. In order to counteract this, the WSPU actively encouraged its members to follow the latest fashions. This allowed the WSPU to construct its own image in the public consciousness, an image which was, in the words of Shelia Stowell, ‘at once both feminine and militant’.

As the government continued to ignore the issue of women’s suffrage, and militant tactics became more widespread, maintaining this feminine image became even more essential. The press released images of Suffragette run-ins with the police, and the police took a number of under-cover surveillance photos of activists. These images directly opposed the gender stereotypes of the age, showing such women as bold, loud and even dangerous. In response the WSPU organised mass demonstrations, and clothing played a key role.  A ‘uniform’ of white dresses combined with WSPU sashes created an almost military presence to catch the government’s attention, while flowers, bright colours and fashionable hats reinforced the idea that a woman could be both pro-suffrage and feminine.

The WSPU realised that clothing and accessories could be utilised to support their political campaign, creating a powerful and easily recognisable ‘brand’ around the ‘Votes for Women’ movement that still resonates with us today.


Blackman, C., ‘How Suffragettes used fashion to further their cause’. The Guardian [online], 8 Oct 2015. Available from: [Accessed 18 September 2018].

Boase, T., 2017. Mrs Pankhurst’s Purple Feather: Fashion, Fury and Feminism – Women’s Fight for Change. London: Aurum Press.

Kaplan, J. and Stowell, S., 1994. Theatre and Fashion: Oscar Wilde to the Suffragettes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Exhibition: ‘Branded: fashion, femininity and the right to vote’, Killerton House, Devon

Exhibition: ‘Votes for Women?’, Killerton House, Devon


Documenting Fashion Reflections

A week on from graduation, our MA students reflect on their favourite moments from a whirlwind year of fashion, friendship and study, study study!

Carolina: By far my favorite part of the documenting fashion MA was the access and special visits to the Dress History library at the Courtauld and archives such as those at FIT in New York and Royal Historic Palaces in London.

Giovanna: Since there were so many enjoyable parts of the Documenting Fashion MA it is difficult to chose a favourite part of the course. What made the experience particularly special was the opportunity to study with a group of like-minded students, take inspiring study trips in London and New York, and write creatively about niche topics, which I am passionate, about in my assessed work.

Aude: If I had to single out one element of the course that I particularly enjoyed, it would be its theoretical approach to dress and the wide-ranging theory we cover in class from film theory to gender studies. The research for essays implies looking at a variety of different disciplines, which in some sense makes it more challenging but also immensely fascinating!

Leah: My favourite thing about studying dress history at The Courtauld? That’s a tough question! I’m not sure I can name just one thing, but it was really great to have the chance to work with Rebecca, who is the most supportive tutor one could ask for. I have also really enjoyed all the class visits and it has been great to meet professionals working in the dress history discipline. The week-long trip to New York was, of course, a highlight! Finally, this year certainly wouldn’t have been the same without the support and friendship of the rest of the MA Documenting Fashion group.

Eleanor: Not very creative of me but I second everything everyone else has said! And that was the main joy of the course for me, to find myself amongst likeminded, creative and clever students, tutors and Professors. Sharing research finds and discovering archives together has provided so many new ways of approaching Dress History, and really invigorated the subject as a whole for me.

Annette Kellerman on ‘How to Swim’

With our MA Dissertations out of sight (if not quite yet out of mind), we can start to follow the tempting threads of research that have been appearing over the last few months. During my writing and research on the dress and physical performances of Australian women in Britain from 1900-1940, I was distracted time and time again by the writings of Annette Kellerman. Annette was a champion swimmer, diver and eventually Hollywood’s first onscreen ‘Mermaid’. She pioneered practical bathing suits for women as part of her advocacy for women’s health and exercise, and amongst several publications, released How to Swim, in 1919.

how to swim 1
Kellerman in ‘How to Swim’, demonstrating the elegant potential of swimming for women.

In How to Swim, Kellerman used her characteristically direct style of address to confront critics who would question the respectability of women becoming involved in sport:

‘Not only in matters of swimming but in all forms of activity woman’s natural development is seriously restricted and impaired by customs and costumes and all sorts of prudish and Puritanical ideas. The girl child long before she is conscious of her sex, is continually reminded that she is a girl and therefore must forego many childhood activities. As womanhood approaches these restrictions become even more severe and the young woman is corseted and gowned and thoroughly imbued with the idea that it is most unlady-like to be possessed of legs or know how to use them.’[1]

She believed swimming was the ideal form of exercise for women as it had the potential to strengthen all the muscles in the body and do away with the ‘need’ to wear corsets to maintain a feminine figure. Kellerman’s genius lay in her ability to understand the time she was living in, and the expectations and limitations women faced around the display of their bodies during physical activities. She devoted pages and pages of How to Swim to the details of dressing for swimming; differentiating between the skirted ‘bathing beach dress’ and the streamlined ‘swimming costume’, the dangers of heavy woollen swimsuits in water, and ways of maintaining (even protecting) femininity while engaging in swimming for exercise. Illustration plates in How to Swim feature Kellerman in ‘the Bathing Cape’, which allowed a woman wearing a suitably brief swimming costume to remain modest on her approach to the water, and maintain a respectable image alongside the personal freedom that exercise, and swimming in particular provided to women of the day.

how to swim 2Never one to leave a stone unturned, or an excuse unchallenged Kellerman also shares with the readers of How to Swim how she combats the particularly female problem associated with swimming—getting your hair wet. Talcum powder and a rubber bathing cap keep the hair dry and lessen the inconvenience to health and style wet hair may pose, while with a typical Kellerman flourish she suggests the inclusion of an artfully tied scarf around the head to maintain the elegance of the ensemble–because above all she maintained that an active woman was an attractive woman. For Kellerman exercise and did not erase femininity, but had the ability to enhance it.

how to swim 3

All images from Annette Kellerman, How to Swim, London: William Heinemann, 1919.

[1] A. Kellerman. How to Swim, London: William Heinemann, 1919. p. 45

The Birth of Cool: A Research Forum Event

BOC-hi-res-jacket-for-Courtauld-e1464705512832-1024x672Please join us on Monday, 20 June for a Courtauld Institute Research Forum, The Birth of Cool: Style Narratives of the African Diaspora. The event is organised by our own Dr Rebecca Arnold with guest speaker Carol Tulloch, the Professor of Dress, Diaspora and Transnationalism at the University of the Arts, London, based at the Chelsea College of Art. Carol Tulloch’s practice of research in dress studies has invariably been inspired by an image. This was the case for her recent publication The Birth of Cool: Style Narratives of the African Diaspora. In this informal illustrated talk Carol will discuss the role images have played in the writing of her book and why certain images had to be included.

Carol Tulloch is also the Chelsea College of Arts/V&A Fellow in Black Visual and Material Culture at the V&A Museum. As writer and curator, Carol’s recent work includes: the book and exhibition Syd Shelton: Rock Against Racism (co-editor and co-curator 2015), the articles A Riot of Our OwnA Reflection on Agency (2014), Buffalo: Style with Intent’ (2011), ‘Style-Fashion-Dress: From Black to Post-black’ (2010); and the exhibitions ‘The Flat Cloth Cap’ in Cabinet Stories (2015),  International Fashion Showcase: Botswana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone,British Council (2012), Handmade Tales: Women and Domestic Crafts, Women’s Library London (2010-11), Black British Style (co-curator 2004).

Event Details:

Monday 20 June 2016

12:30 pm – 1:30 pm

Research Forum Seminar Room, The Courtauld Institute of Art

Somerset House, Strand, London, WC2R 0RN

The Research Forum “Dress Talks” is a series of lunchtime events bringing together a roster of invited speakers to talk about their current research, and encourage discussion about dress history now. Each term academics, curators and dress and fashion industry professionals will share their insight and analysis of an aspect of dress and fashion history to provide a platform for new ideas and approaches to the subject.

Taking place over the lunch hour, these sessions are free and open to all.


Dissertation Discussion: Eleanor

What is your title?

Dressing for the Empire: Australian women in London 1900-1930

What prompted you to choose this subject?

The initial stirrings of an idea started months ago when I was trawling the British Pathé archives for another assignment and came across a gorgeous little clip from 1967 that featured models parading through a sheep shed that was reporting on uses of Australian wool in fashion for the British public. It got me thinking about the depictions of Australian fashion in the UK and particularly the depiction of the Australian woman.

Beatrice Kerr, 1907, toured Britain from 1906-1911 as 'Australia's champion Lady diver' in her patriotic, though fairly risqué swimsuit. Image via National Library of Australia.
Beatrice Kerr, 1907, toured Britain from 1906-1911 as ‘Australia’s champion Lady diver’ in her patriotic, though fairly risqué swimsuit. Image via National Library of Australia.

Most inspiring research find so far?

The most inspiring research so far have been the wonderful characters I have come across (like Beatrice Kerr, above) and they have largely determined the timeframe I’ve decided to focus on (1900-1930). The number of single Australian and New Zealand born women living in Britain during these years was incredibly high. These women largely travelled to Britain alone, with no firm plans as to employment or accommodation when they arrived. It was an incredibly bold move to take for women in this era, and fostered a particular idea about antipodean women being independent, resourceful and bit wild. With this perception already in place, and being far from the social restrictions they might face at home these women were able to transgress social norms thanks to their status as ‘outsiders’. My research is now trying to establish how these social assumptions translated into the dress and bodies of these women; the way they transgressed physically, and ways in which dress characterised transgressive femininity.

Favourite place to work?

After the necessity of trawling through old newspapers in the British Library Newsroom for a few weeks I’ve become quite attached to it. The microfiche machines mean it isn’t dead silent and there are ALWAYS tables free which means I don’t have to arrive for doors open. And the baristas at the little coffee cart inside the entrance are the only people in London who remember my coffee order. Possibly I’m there too much.

Dress Secrets: Documenting Fashion goes to NYC part 1

People keep asking, and I keep failing to share a single favourite thing from our recent trip to New York. Certainly, the group went into collective paroxysms of bliss when a 1923 opera coat of black velvet, gold brocade and grey chinchilla trim was whirled in front of us at Museum at FIT. There were more than a few exclamations of, “But this place has my entire undergrad art history coursework in it’s collection!” from those who had never been to MOMA. And when the Museum of the City of New York turned out to be a veritable Aladdin’s cave of costume and couture from the city’s historic hoi polloi, I will admit to a certain amount of gaping.

Giovanna inadvertently channeling Meret Oppenheim's 1936 'Object' at MOMA (L) & The MA's trying to find the best angle for photographing the light installation at the Museum of the City of New York (R)
Giovanna inadvertently channeling Meret Oppenheim’s 1936 ‘Object’ at MOMA (L) &
The MA’s trying to find the best angle for photographing the light installation at the Museum of the City of New York (R)

Perhaps that’s it. Proximity, presence, reality—the physical experience of objects we’d only previously seen in print. There is inevitably a certain amount of staring at reproduced images in Art History, and Dress History is no exception. The world doesn’t hold an endless supply of Fortuny Delphos gowns to pass around, no more than it has endless Matisse. Neither can Fortuny be replicated more easily than Matisse, his pleating technique, lost to history has never been accurately replicatedSo when a peach silk Delphos is uncoiled from its box, and the lightness and fragility of the silk has to be carefully balanced in an archivist’s hand against the incredible comparative weight of the Venetian glass beads at its sides you can’t help but feel like you’re being let in on a secret. In pictures, both on the body and on mannequins, the Delphos gown lends an air of the impenetrable, neoclassical statuesque. Up close in the Museum at FIT archives, it looks so delicate you begin to imagine what it would be like to wear  how it would cling and skim over your body, the hang of the beads and stretch and pull of the intricately pleated fabric.

The Mariano Fortuny 'Delphi's' Dress at FIT
The Mariano Fortuny ‘Delphos’ Dress at FIT

Again at FIT, a Charles James gown on display conjured up romantic visions of an idealised 1950’s silhouette, all curves and flounce and extremes of femininity. Exterior layers of tulle belie a lightness, the impression of which is quickly dispelled when confronted with a muslin archive copy that audibly groans on its hanger from the sheer weight of fabric involved in these creations. James’ wish to be regarded as a sculptor make more sense than ever from this vantage, as the dress is able to stand under its own support, and the addition of a body inside it seems inconsequential to its existence.

The enormous Charles James muslin copy showing in thick folds of padded fabric
The enormous Charles James muslin copy showing in thick folds of padded fabric

I could write paragraphs upon paragraphs of examples—how seeing the serious corsetry under a loose, a-line 1962 Balenciaga, or hearing the sheer volume of noise created by a fully beaded 1920’s flapper dress made me feel like I had been handed closely guarded knowledge about dress history. Seeing these garments, even on hangers, or being gently removed from archival boxes gave a sense of weight and movement and even sound that images will always struggle to convey, and which going forward encourages me to seek the real thing out wherever, and whenever possible.

The heavily boned Balenciaga (L) and the beautifully noisy flapper dress (R)
The heavily boned Balenciaga (L) and the beautifully noisy flapper dress (R)

Fashion in Winter (Films!)

As the mercury finally drops in London, we thought it might be nice to focus on how we could get our fashion fix in a more indoor way. Below we’ve rounded up our favourite winter fashion films that should help get us through the cold weeks ahead.**

**Please note not all the films below feature winter fashions. Some of us are clearly in denial.


Rebecca // ‘The Pink Panther’, 1963

This has everything – Capucine in a reversible coat and turban, and a series of dreamy nightwear. Claudia Cardinale in skiwear, beaded cocktail dress and pink and gold sari. Both are dressed by Yves Saint Laurent – and every outfit is lovely.  As if that wasn’t enough, there is more amazing winter knitwear than I have ever seen, a jewellery heist, plus, David Niven, Robert Wagner and Peter Sellers. Really it is just fantastic, I have loved it since I saw it on TV as a child and it is a major influence.

Liz // ‘The Pink Panther’, 1963

My favourite film for winter fashions is that memorable scene from Blake Edward’s The Pink Panther (1963), when Fran Jeffries – with dark hair piled high on top of her head, and scarlet red fingernails – sings and dances to the Italian song “Meglio Statsera” inside a crowded chalet in Cortina d’Ampezzo, watched by the likes of Claudia Cardinale, David Niven, Robert Wagner and Capucine. The epitome of apres-ski chic, she models a red, black and silver-beaded turtleneck jumper, worn with close-fitting black trousers that frame her fabulous figure as she elegantly moves across the room, captivating her audience.

The Pink Panther
The Pink Panther

Alexis // ‘Meet Me in St. Louis’, 1944

This musical is composed of four sections, one for each season, with clothing corresponding to each. Although set in 1903, hair and dress styles evoke its 1940s creation; and instead of blending into one harmonious picture, costumes stand out and play active roles in the story. The film is well underway by winter, and for the climactic dance scene sisters Esther and Rose wear red and green dresses, complementing one another and forming a perfect Christmas palette.

Meet Me in St. Louis
Meet Me in St. Louis

Aude // ‘Barry Lyndon’, 1975

Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon (1975) for the sheer scope of it (hairdos included) and Marisa Berenson’s pensive moments.

Barry Lyndon
Barry Lyndon

Carolina // ‘Love Actually’, 2003

I recently re-watched Love Actually not only because it is a tradition to watch it with a mug of hot chocolate and a close friend every year, but also quite simply because in my humble opinion it is the best holiday film of all time. Costume plays an interesting role in the movie, marking important plot points and conveying key character traits. Most importantly however, it showcases the best or worst – depending how you feel – of late 90s / early 00s fashion. Favourite costumes include Juliet’s (Keira Knightley) wedding dress, a wonderful number complete with small feathers around the neck and nearly-see-through lace (I’m nostalgic regarding for the 90s but think we’re all glad wedding dresses have evolved since). In addition to Billy Mack’s (Bill Nighy) general rock star–gone–broke–and–pathetic costumes such as his horrendously loud Hawaiian shirts and distressed white denim suit. While last but not least, Natalie’s (Martine McCutcheon) nephew’s extremely obtrusive papier mache Octopus costume which manages to almost thwart the Prime Minister’s (Hugh Grant) attempts to win her over, never fails to make me laugh. The awkwardness it inspires whilst showcasing the best of mum’s home costume making is priceless.

Love Actually
Love Actually

Giovanna // ‘La Grande Belleza’, 2013

Though this film does not strictly showcase winter fashions, the costumes, which have been nominated for countless awards are nonetheless beautiful. The reason I love this film is because of the attention to detail paid to the sartorial elegance of the main character Jep Gambardella. Played by Toni Servillo, Jep is a former author who has spent the past years throwing fabulous parties for Rome’s social elite. He is styled according to costume designer Daniela Ciancio as, “an old-fashioned man alive today” surrounded by “a world that has lost a certain elegance”. Such a description is fitting as Jep is dressed in a range of immaculately cut Neapolitan suits, which feature colourful jackets and pocket squares. If Italian menswear is not for you, fear not as there are many a fabulous cape and turban in this beautifully shot award-winning film.

La Grand Belezza
La Grand Belezza

Eleanor // Bridget Jones’ Diary, 2001

The film counts its major transitions in Christmases so we are treated to some spectacular themed jumpers, cocktail dresses and flannel pyjamas, but Bridget’s finale run-through-the-snow is clearly the key fashion moment for the film. The sensory camaraderie in the scene between Bridget and the viewer is a glory, and revolves around the ridiculousness of her outfit. A triumph of incongruity and early oughties underwear, Bridget is caught out when she needs to go out, and retrieve the love of my her life Colin Firth. Knickers with a racy tiger print in a sensible ‘brief’ cut and a periwinkle cotton camisole won’t cut it in the snow and Bridget gives in to the indignity of forcing already snowy feet, bare, into pre-laced trainers and throwing on a grey cardigan that doesn’t quite cover her unmentionables. With Diana Ross belting in the background we share in Bridget’s embarrassment, and rapidly freezing thighs until the sentiment of the final moments when we’re finally wrapped up in Colin Firth’s smartly cut, black wool overcoat that we had last seen marching away, popped collar and swinging tails begging us to follow.

Bridget Jones Diary

Leah // ‘High Society’, 1956

So I’ll admit that this is not exactly a ‘winter fashions’ film – but somewhere in the world right now it is summer, right? In the name of equal representation and fairness, then, High Society gets my vote simply for the poolside costume that Grace Kelly sports: a long, draped, white dress with a cape at the back that she removes to reveal a high waisted playsuit with a plunging neckline underneath.

High Society

Lucy // ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’, 1947

Chic suits, elegantly draped with fur stoles and topped with neat hats; and intricately rolled  hairstyles and ruffled dresses that were made for festive celebrations. It’s a Wonderful Life, directed by Frank Capra in 1947, is a winter holiday favourite, and also epitomises many of the fashion moments that the 1940s are remembered for.

It's a Wonderful Life
It’s a Wonderful Life

Courtauld MA Application Tips

As the New Years countdown ends, the other big countdown of the year begins…MA Application deadline at The Courtauld!

Your application is due January 8th (as if you needed reminding) so as you’re doing the final polish we thought we’d help you out with some tips from the current batch of Documenting Fashion MA students. Twelve months ago we too were hovering anxiously over our keyboards trying to make the few hundred words of our personal statement capture every thought and feeling we have ever had about Art History and Fashion. Hopefully the following will help you realize you don’t quite have to do that, and we’ve even squeezed some thoughts from former Documenting Fashion MAs, now PhD students (they’re really good at applications).

Best of luck to you all!

Somerset House (picture yourself here, strolling and having deep art historical thoughts...)
Somerset House (picture yourself here, strolling and having deep art historical thoughts…)

If you’re considering applying to the MA at The Courtauld, think about what particularly excites you about the course, how it relates to your experiences so far, and read everything that interests you around it.

– Lucy, PhD


Be prepared for a whirlwind nine months of looking and thinking about dress and fashion – it will be hectic, but it will enable you to hone your analytical and research skills, and to find out what it is that particularly fascinates you.

– Liz, PhD


My advice to any one considering applying to the MA Documenting Fashion is to read and research as much as possible so you can to really understand what the course entails. There are many ways to do this; the Courtauld website, the Documenting Fashion Blog and Instagram accounts and by simply getting in touch with us. We are more than happy to chat to prospective applicants about our experience.

– Giovanna, MA


When writing your personal statement for the application try to think about how your previous work, for example from your undergraduate studies, may be applicable to the course themes – even if you have never directly studied fashion or film and photography before. Be concise and to the point.

– Leah, MA


I applied to the Courtauld MA after a year of working at a communications consultancy with an undergraduate degree in International Relations. While I tried my hardest to work on projects related to the arts whilst at my job, it certainly was not directly related to the MA History of Art course and the Documenting Fashion special option. Therefore, highlighting the skills gained whilst at the consultancy (e.g. writing to various audiences) were important for my application. Additionally I underscored why, given my work experience, I was interested in the special option by discussing relevant papers taken (e.g. film studies courses), personal projects and/or internships etc.

– Carolina, MA


It is ok to admit your obsession for all things fashion related; pin-down what exactly attracts you to fashion (whether dress history itself, cultural history at large, or issues of identity, feminism, and so on).

– Aude, MA


The personal statement is not the time to play down your interest in fashion and what it is about its history that really makes you tick. Be articulate, be concise but remember why you are putting all this effort in—you really want to study dress and fashion at The Courtauld! This year the MAs all have very different academic backgrounds and it really enriches discussion to have such varying points of view. Don’t assume you’re ‘not right’ for the course.

– Eleanor, MA