Category Archives: Dress in Focus

The Stylish Armour of 1940s New York Fashion

Helen Levitt’s (1913-2009) photography presents life on the streets of her native New York from the 1930s to 1990s. The current exhibition of her work at The Photographers’ Gallery in London gives insight on a world of charm and character often overlooked in a time and place associated with hardship.

What struck me about many of the photographs in the exhibition was the street style they showed, particularly of 1940s New York, and how this style seemed to embody the ease and coolness of residents whilst also creating a protective armour that shielded them from potential harm.

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Figure 1. New York, c.1940. Silver Gelatin Print. Courtesy of Film Documents LLC and Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne.

The first image I have featured exudes glamour (Fig. 1). The woman stands powerfully in the centre of the frame, her large hairdo and statement fur coat making her appear more a fashion model than everyday resident. She turns her head away from the camera, nonchalant despite her bold presence. The photograph might be a snapshot, but something in the woman’s pose implies a knowledge that she is being photographed. She wants to appear powerfully glamourous. Behind her, in a storefront window, is a sign for spaghetti being sold for 25 cents. The spaghetti sign grounds the image. The woman is in her local area, and Levitt chooses to show us those surroundings rather than strategically shooting a more glamourous background to suit the look of the woman.

In this image I see optimism for the beginning of a new decade that this woman seems determined to succeed in. However, the fur coat with its strong shoulder pads also suggests protection, as if the woman is cocooning herself in a thick wall of fur to defend herself from the harsh realities of the world she faces. We lose all sense of the woman’s proportions beneath the heavy coat. She is emboldened by the layers of clothing she has ensconced herself in.

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Figure 2. New York, 1944. Silver Gelatin Print. Private collection. Courtesy of Film Documents LLC and Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne.

The second photograph is as glamourous as the first (Fig. 2). A couple stand together, woman leaning on man, both impeccably dressed. Levitt has captured the woman mid-speech, and two more women are walking across the scene from the left-hand side. This all comes together to present a far more snapshot-like image than the first.

The man’s oversized zoot suit, paired with hat, sunglasses, and loosely held cigarette, all contribute to create an image of effortlessness but also serve as a kind of armour, similar to the fur coat of the woman in the first image. The shoulder pads and loose suit trousers conceal the shape of his body, and the sunglasses restrict the expression that can be gleaned from his facial features.

The woman’s casual pose leaning against the man at first suggests ease and comfort. However, a layer of defence can also be seen in the sharp angle of her elbow, pointed out towards the street on her exposed side.

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Figure 3. New York, 1945. Silver Gelatin Print. Courtesy of Film Documents LLC and Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne.

The final image I would like to discuss perhaps best highlights the way fashion served as protective armour in 1940s New York (Fig. 3). The man facing the camera stands in a striped suit, hands clasped in front of him, fedora casting a shadow across his forehead. What is most notable about the man’s outfit is its bold use of pattern. A striped suit is paired with a checked shirt and graphic tie. The clash of patterns reveals the man’s confidence styling himself, and his confidence asserting his place with striking visual presence.

Beside the man stands a far less extravagantly dressed individual. We only see his back, but can see he has removed his jacket and stands in a t-shirt, the shape of his shoulder blades showing through the fabric. This figure, next to the powerful stance of the suited man, becomes a figure of vulnerability. The composition almost gives the impression we are seeing two sides of the same man; the confident figure who faces the world, and the softer side of himself that cannot be fully revealed to the camera. A child in the window of the building looks down on the man who faces away from us, adding to the sense that this lack of layers of clothing is a childlike kind of vulnerability.

‘Helen Levitt: In The Street’ is on show at The Photographers’ Gallery until 13th Feb 2022.

By Megan Stevenson

YSL: The Muses

Whilst it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when high-profile fashion muses became widespread, the concept has been around for centuries. In Greek mythology, the Muses are goddesses of the arts who ruled over ‘the Inspiration’ and are famously beautiful and alluring. The myth suggests that poets and other artists would attempt to summon the Muses in the hope that they would provide them with inspiration for their work.

Muses
The Muses and Minerva by Hendrick van Balen the Elder.

 

In fashion, one of the most famous muse and designer pairings was that of Audrey Hepburn and Givenchy, which was immortalised by the Breakfast at Tiffany’s LBD. For a designer, a muse is someone who inspires creativity within the designer, and embodies what the brand is about and the type of consumer they are hoping to attract.

Audrey
Audrey Hepburn and Hubert de Givenchy at the Academy Awards, 1954.

YSL’s most iconic muses:

Betty Catroux

Betty
Betty Catroux and Yves Saint Laurent, Paris, 1970s, Droits réservés

Betty Catroux and Yves Saint Laurent met at a Parisian nightclub in 1967 and their close professional and personal relationship remained consistent for over 50 years until Saint Laurent’s death in 2008. This relationship is recognised as so influential to YSL’s creative process that the Musée Yves Saint Laurent Paris held an exhibition surrounding Betty Catroux’s status as Saint Laurent’s ‘female double’. It was through Catroux’s androgynous look and the mixing of masculine and feminine elements, that YSL defined ‘the unusual codes of femininity and seductiveness’ that remain central to the brand and can be clearly seen in the exquisite tailoring that the brand is known for. The essence of what it means to be a muse is perfectly captured by current director Anthony Vaccarello, who states, ‘She lives and breathes Saint Laurent. An allure, a mystery, an almost nefarious aspect, an elusive yet desirable nature, all that underlies the house’s aura, and you understand the magnitude of it when you meet Betty.’

 

Paloma Picasso

Paloma
Paloma Picasso and Yves Saint Laurent, photographed by Jean Luce Huré.

Paloma Picasso has remained a muse for the YSL brand from Yves Saint Laurent himself to current director Anthony Vaccarello. Vaccarello claims that ‘Paloma Picasso was the only woman who inspired a collection for Yves Saint Laurent’. Before going on to state, ‘Paloma was the only one who really changed Yves Saint Laurent’s perception of fashion… Before, he was really into couture – really into this cute, very perfect silhouette – and when he met her, with her huge red lips, dressed in vintage, she was really new for him. It changed his own style.’ It was this unique vintage style that Paloma wore in the early 70s that inspired the 1971 Scandal collection. By mixing past and present fashions, and masculine and feminine styles, YSL made fashion into a spectacle.

 

This iconic 1971 Scandal collection was referenced in the brand’s SS22 collection in which Vaccarello stated he wanted to recreate that exciting, fresh feeling associated with the original collection and Paloma herself, in his collection which marked the, hoped or perceived, end of the pandemic.

YSL
Saint Laurent’s SS22 collection.

 

Mounia

Mounia
Mounia and Yves Saint Laurent on the runway, 1980s.

Mounia made history as the first black model to walk a Haute Couture catwalk in 1978. However, before this, Yves Saint Laurent was drawn to Mounia’s ‘rich complexion and unparalleled grace’ and throughout their collaboration, he drew upon her for friendship, inspiration and creativity. Saint Laurent was committed to showcasing the diversity within his models, and through his continued support, the fashion world as a whole fell in love with Mounia’s elegance. Throughout her career, Mounia wore YSL on the cover of many major magazines and consistently appeared in his collections throughout the 70s and 80s.

 

Rosé

Rose
Rose and Anthony Vaccarello at the 2021 Met Gala.

Blackpink’s Rosé was announced as global brand ambassador for Saint Laurent in 2020, and since then she’s become close friends with Anthony Vaccarello. Vaccarello said of Rosé, ‘She is Saint Laurent in the way she lives, in the way she takes charge of how she dresses, in her way of liberating herself from the crowd… She is someone who represents today’s society.’ In response, Rosé said, ‘I hope I am a muse to him and that he does get a lot of ideas from me…I have very strong opinions, and I think Anthony noticed that.’ So far the duo have most notably appeared side-by-side at the 2021 Met Gala, with Rosé wearing a ready-to-wear black mini dress with an oversized white bow.

 

It will be interesting to see where this partnership goes next!

 

By Rosie Dyer

Sources:

https://www.teenvogue.com/story/blackpink-rose-met-gala-2021

https://www.wmagazine.com/fashion/rose-blackpink-interview-saint-laurent

https://www.teenvogue.com/story/blackpink-rose-saint-laurent-paris-fashion-week

https://www.lofficielusa.com/fashion/who-is-mounia-model-yves-saint-laurent-haute-couture

https://agnautacouture.com/2014/06/29/paloma-picasso-the-seventies-it-girl-inspired-ysl-scandal-collection/

https://museeyslparis.com/en/exhibitions/betty-catroux-yves-saint-laurent

https://fashionista.com/2019/07/fashion-designers-muses-inspiration

https://www.prestigeonline.com/id/style/fashion/the-relationships-between-fashion-designers-and-their-muses/

https://www.greekmythology.com/Other_Gods/The_Muses/the_muses.html

Shoe Fetish: The Glorification of Female Discomfort

ShoesMaddy Plimmer, No Romance on the Pedestal, 2021, Goldsmiths MFA Degree Show, London

 

On a recent visit to the ‘London Grads Now’ exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery, showcasing the works of recent art school graduates, I was magnetised towards a towering pair of heels (above). Created by Goldsmiths graduate Maddy Plimmer, these heels, at a metre tall, are not for the faint-hearted or weak-ankled. Plimmer explains that the inspiration behind these art objects was a mobile game featuring a female avatar whose heels grow in height as she navigates a progressively challenging obstacle course. The precariousness of women’s existence through self-elevation, literal or metaphorical, is evidently a topic of fascination. I couldn’t help but imagine how painful the experience of standing, let alone attempting to walk, in these shoes would be.

 

The obsession with shoe-related female discomfort is by no means a new concept. Footbinding, a practice enforcing the beauty standard of delicately small feet, is a global phenomenon throughout dress history. Not only did binding stunt foot growth, it also debilitated women’s ability to stand, walk and exist. The historic desirability of women’s tiny feet and dainty little shoes makes the female foot an eroticised object that warrants regulation. For example in China during the Ming dynasty, if a woman revealed a barefoot in public, she would be committing an indecent assault. The air of secrecy that feet acquired through centuries of being hidden away is what made them so controversial. Shoes, hinting at what lies within, have thus become objects of Freudian fetish fascination.

 

Foot

Foot reliquary of Saint Blaise, c. 1260, Musée provincial des Arts anciens, Belgium

 

In its purest form, ‘fetish’ defines objects that have religious or spiritual significance, such as reliquaries. Saint Blaise, a fourth-century physician and healer, was beheaded for refusing to renounce his Christian faith. The above reliquary, supposedly containing authentic relics of his foot bones, served a practical function of directing prayer, as well as embodying and inspiring fervent Christian dedication. Comprised of oak, stone and precious metals, each individually crafted toe hints at the holy bones contained within without revealing them. However, the hinged door detail implies that the reliquary could be opened to witness the relics.

 

From a dress historical point of view, the reliquary calls to mind Maison Margiela’s iconic Tabi boot (below). Like the medieval reliquary, the Tabi draws attention to the separation of the toes, connoting the foot within without directly showing it. The almost hoof-like appearance of the foot takes on a fetish significance, but not in religious terms. The statement shoe draws the eye down the length of the body to be affronted by a yonic slit in the usual place of a modestly covered foot. While heels are usually regarded as phallic objects to elongate and accentuate the sexualised female form, the Tabi boot subverts this, and is particularly potent when worn by a man.

 

 

Tabis

Maison Margiela, Mens Painted Calfskin Tabi Boots. maisonmargiela.com

 

 

Appropriated from Japanese tabi that date back to the fifteenth century, Margiela’s boot continues a long history of the regulation of women through their footwear. Tabi were originally leather shoes made from a single piece of animal skin, later evolving into split-toe socks to be worn with thong shoes, such as geta.

 

Tabi

Koma geta, second half on 19th century / Edo period, Japan, Tokyo, Musée de Quai Branley, Paris

 

This pair of geta, nearly 30 centimetres high and weighing over 2.5 kilograms, belonged to a courtesan in the Yoshiwara pleasure district of Edo, modern-day Tokyo. The two wooden ‘teeth’ platforms are ornately decorated in guided floral motifs, whilst the straps are wrapped in now faded velvet. Both connote a degree of luxury, suggesting the status of the courtesan. The woodblock print below depicts a procession of richly-dressed courtesans, all in geta and ornate kimonos, accompanied by attendants. However, this is not an accurate depiction of the realities of the sex district. By physically elevating the female wearer, geta were utilised as a way of identifying courtesans within the district, especially to make sure they weren’t running away. Furthermore, some geta also bore the mark of the courtesan’s owner, revealing that these shoes were a way of binding courtesans to their life within the sex district, thus denying female empowerment or freedom.

 

Image 5

Utagawa Hiroshige II, Nakano Street in Yoshiawa district in Edo, 1857, woodblock print, Japan, V&A, London

Restrictive footwear, in every sense of the word, is also evidenced throughout Europe. For example, chopines were highly popular throughout Renaissance Europe, in particular Venice. These stilt-like shoes served the practical function of elevating the wearer above flooded streets to prevent their expensive garments from being dirtied. However the chopines below, at around a staggering 55 centimetres tall, offer an entirely impractical degree of elevation.

 

Image 6

Chopine, Italy, circa 1600. wood and leather. Royal Armoury, Stockholm

This suggests that chopines also served the symbolic function of displaying status, as they literally showcased women of higher standing. Additionally, chopines create a phallic image of the female form – transforming her into an erect column-like structure. According to Freud, it is not simply the fact that the shoe imitates the form of a phallus that justifies fetishists’ appreciation of footwear. It is also the positioning of the shoe in relation to the body, creating a link up to the leg towards the genitals. Freud argues that young boys, from their low vantage point, make this link in relation to their mother and their mother’s absent penis. The materials of heavy skirts that shield the female body from prying eyes add an erotic level of mystery to this.

 

Image 7

Ferrando Bertelli, Venetian Woman with Moveable Skirt (with flap lifted to reveal her chopines), 1563. Engraving, 14 x 18.9 cm. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

The above image depicts a respectable sixteenth-century woman who is reduced to ridicule as her skirt can be lifted up to expose her chopines as well as her breeches. At the time, breeches, a masculine undergarment, were often adopted by prostitutes. The hovering cupid, once her skirt is lifted, crudely points his arrow directly at her covered genitals. Her chopines are not as grand as other examples. She is neither elevated through her rank nor her footwear, making her lowered status as a prostitute a possibility.

 

 

Image 8

Mule, circa 1900, Vienna, Austria, International Shoe Museum, Romans.

 

Excessive heel height is not only about displaying women’s aspirational status but also about diminishing and controlling them through severe discomfort. The above fetish mule, made of black kidskin, represents female discomfort for male gratification. The severe point of the toes, combined with the flared and precariously narrow 20-centimetre heel, reveal that it would be impossible to stand in these delicate shoes. They could only be worn sitting or lying down. Yet these mules would have enhanced the curvature of the arch of the foot to an extreme degree, creating a graceful silhouette. The intricate ruffled detail and the bow adorned with a cabochon set in porcelain demonstrate that this is a valuable object. Hence, this shoe is not about diminishing a woman’s social standing, but about reducing her to an immobile, passive object of desire.

 

 

Image 9

Fetish boots, c. 1900, Vienna, Austria, International Shoe Museum, Romans

 

Similarly, the 28-centimetre heel of the above fetish boot creates an unnatural curvature of the female foot. The point of the shoe and the heel sit at different heights, again showing that these boots were not made for walking. The length of the boot, extending up the entire calf, evokes the physical proximity of the leather to the female skin, which adds a layer of fetishism to the object. The thirty two intricate button fastenings up the length of the boot enhance this, creating a sense of longing for what the boot encapsulates but is unwilling to surrender. In this way, it is not entirely dissimilar to the foot reliquary.

 

 

 

 

Image 10

Christian Louboutin, Pumps, 2007, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Louboutin’s 2007 ‘Fetish’ collection brings the themes of early twentieth-century fetishism into the present day. Louboutin takes the humble flat ballet pump, a staple of contemporary women’s wardrobes, and morphs it into something that looks like an instrument of torture. In the campaign shoot, photographer David Lynch stressed this element of eroticised female suffering.

 

 

Image 11

David Lynch, Fetish, 2007. Courtesy of Christian Louboutin

 

In keeping with the ballet pump, Lynch requested dancers instead of models for the shoot. This also tied in with Louboutin’s origins as a shoe designer for showgirls at the infamous Paris cabaret music hall, the Folies Bergère. Thus dance and movement (or a lack of movement) have always been taken into consideration in his designs. Moreover, Louboutin prioritises his imagination over technical elements and natural proportions, and this is certainly the case here. The strong, athletic legs of the dancer tower over her tiny delicate feet that are hardly visible in their contortion. The harsh light projects a shadow of the extreme, sensuous curvature of the dancer’s feet, teetering precariously en pointe. Lynch has created an atmosphere shrouded in secrecy through these chiaroscuro light effects, forcing the viewer into the role of the voyeur. The dancer’s naked body is fragmented as we can only see her bare legs. Her arms are out of shot and supposedly holding onto supports. The blurred image evokes a sense of panicked movement, as if she is in the process of falling. In this instance, it is the delicate vulnerability of a woman wearing such torturous shoes that renders her an object of spectacle and thus of erotic fascination.

 

There is something inherently powerful about employing footwear, something that was originally designed to root you to the ground and facilitate walking, as a means of self-elevation through tolerated agony. Yet if such an accessory is forced onto unwilling feet, it denies selfhood, and objectifies the wearer as a passive mannequin-like static form.

 

By Claudia Stanley

 

Sources:

 

Apter, Emily. Feminizing the Fetish: Psychoanalysis and Narrative Obsession in Turn-of-the Century France. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2018.

 

Bossan, Marie-Josèphe. The Art of the Shoe. New York: Parkstone, 2004.

 

Croizat-Glazer, Yassana. Historical Shoe Trends, Sexual Contrasts and the Need to Take Up Space. 15th July 2021: https://awomensthing.org/blog/historical-shoe-trends-chopines-crakows/

 

Furiassi, Cristiano Gino. Chronicling a Global Fetish: A Linguistic Analysis of the Pseudo-Italian Internationalism Stiletto. ZoneModa Journal 9, no. 2, 2019. pp. 103–121.

 

Hamlyn, Anne, Freud, Fabric, Fetish, Textile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture, vol.1, no. 1, March 2003. pp. 8-26.

 

Jacobs, Fredrika H. Shoes. Res (Cambridge, Mass.) 71-72, no. 1, 2019. pp. 284–294.

 

Jacques M. Chevalier. “Foot and Shoe Fetishes: The Bright Side.” In Corpus and the Cortex, 109–. MQUP, 2002.

 

Stephens, Sonya. Sex and Spleen: Fetish in Baudelaire’s ‘les Bijoux.’ South Central review 29, no. 3, 2012. pp. 63–79.

 

V&A. Christian Louboutin interview, 2015: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WrH4JlyW5zo

Party frock or military uniform?: Mick Jagger performing gender at Hyde Park, London, 5th July 1969.

On a summer’s afternoon in 1969, Mick Jagger bounds onto the stage set up in Hyde Park with characteristic explosive energy. He swaggers across the stage, donning a white dress designed by Michael Fish, paired with white flared trousers and clutching a battered book of poetry. Bowing and blowing kisses to adoring fans, he oozes an aura of masculine self-assurance as his balloon sleeves and gathered skirt waft around him.

Figure 1: Mick Jagger reading an excerpt from Percy Bysshe Shelley’s elegy Adonais in memory of Brian Jones, 5th July 1969, Robert Hunt Library/Shutterstock

Their first performance in two years, what the Rolling Stones had intended as a free concert to give back to the fans they had somewhat abandoned during this time, as well as to introduce their new band member, Mick Taylor, as Brian Jones’ replacement, ended up as a more sombre affair. Jones had been dismissed from the band in June that year due to his struggle with addiction, resulting in the multifaceted musician and originally integral element to The Stones becoming a liability not only to the band’s recording sessions and success, but also to himself. Brian Jones was found dead at the bottom of his swimming pool on 2nd July, three days before the concert.

Jagger attempts to calm the crowd with the fragile authority of a substitute teacher struggling to tame a classroom of hormone-fuelled teenagers. But, because he’s Mick Jagger, he (just about) pulls it off.

‘OOOOWWRRIGHT! Okay now listen! Will you just cool it for just a minute because I really would like to say something for Brian.’ He resorts to ‘OKAY ARE YOU GOING TO BE QUIET OR NOT?’, which seemingly settles the gathered spectators. Jagger proceeds to recite a few verses from Shelley’s poem Adonais: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats. The touching words of Shelley honouring a fellow artist struck down in his youth feel hauntingly relevant. Despite Jagger’s slightly wooden recital, it is a moving and fitting tribute. Hundreds of white butterflies were then shaken out of cardboard boxes, fluttering above the stage and crowd in dizzy liberation. Yet what is most memorable about this iconic performance is that dress. Not many men could wield the same degree of authority over a crowd of 250,000 to 500,000 people whilst wearing a dress that was compared to a ‘little girl’s white party frock’ by the British press. Jagger, luckily, is one of them.

There is undeniable androgynous hybridity to Jagger’s ensemble. The white dress is ornately decorated with a ruffled collar and cuffs which mirror the pleated skirt, billowing full sleeves, and individual bow fastenings down the fitted bodice. All of these intricate details do evoke a young girl’s frock. The dress-making pattern image from the 1950s below exhibits the femininity and girlishness of puff sleeves, delicate collars and bows, and full skirts, which are arguably paralleled, or parodied, by Jagger’s garment.

Figure 2: Girl’s One-Piece Vintage Dress Sewing Pattern: Flower Girl, Party Dress, 1st Communion, 1950’s, Simplicity Pattern Co.

Designer Michael Fish was a pioneer of the ‘Peacock Revolution’. The evolution of menswear shifted drastically throughout the 1960s, prioritising rich fabrics, extravagant colours and more effeminate silhouettes over traditional tailoring. Mr Fish, a boutique in Mayfair, stocked and sold his flamboyant garments, from frilled silk shirts to men’s caftans, to the emerging demographic of the London dandy. Below, we see Michael Fish wearing one of his designs, with almost identical ornate details of ruffled collar and bow fastenings to Jagger’s dress. The context of the sexual revolution, triggered by the circulation of the contraceptive pill in Britain from 1963, brought in an era of sexual liberation, meaning that men could challenge traditional notions of masculinity and indulge in androgynous ways of dress.

Figure 3: Michael Fish and Barry Sainsbury, 1968, Courtesy of Mason & Sons

Jagger did not stop at dressing in a feminine manner. He went as far as adopting the female gender signifiers of long hair and makeup in a convincing performance of gender play. His eyes are shrouded in mysterious smokiness and his infamous pout is accentuated by lipstick as his hair sweeps down past his shoulders. Having said this, Jagger’s dress can also be read as a display of masculinity. The full, pleated skirt arguably evokes the fustanella – a skirt-like garment worn throughout South East Europe, but in particular by the Evzone elite ceremonial unit of the Greek Royal Guard (below, left).

Figure 4: The Archbishop Regent Damaskinos of Greece with an Evzone Guard at the Regency in Athens, 15 February 1945, Capt. Tanner War Office official photographer, Imperial War Museum

The dramatic flare of the Evzone Guard’s sleeve combined with the fullness of the kilt-like skirt both hint at the yards of fabric that have gone into the construction of this garment, whilst simultaneously providing a prototype for the defining features of Jagger’s frock. Origins on the fustanella date back to the nineteenth century, but the garment is also perhaps a continuation of men’s short tunics from Ancient Greece. Looking back to another time or another country became an increasingly important source of fashion influence throughout the 1960s.  Arguably Jagger was drawn to Michael Fish’s garment as it takes inspiration from then and there to challenge the gender divide of here and now.

Figure 5: Mick Jagger performing at Hyde Park in 1969, Ray Stevenson/Shutterstock

Later on in the performance, as the afternoon heat descends, Jagger removes his smock, untying each individual bow to release himself from his effeminate exterior. Beneath, he is wearing a simple vest which exposes his slender but undeniably masculine frame. Therefore in its fluid state, gender, like clothing, can be tried on, worn, taken off and worn again. Such was the case for Jagger. Not only was he rumoured to have worn this same dress to his financial adviser’s white-themed party two days before, but he also revisited this look forty four years later with a strikingly similar white smock garment during The Rolling Stones’ return to Hyde Park in 2013.

Figure 6: Mick Jagger performing at Hyde Park in 2013, Roger Tooth for the Guardian

 By Claudia Stanley

 

 

Sources:

 

The Rolling Stones – Tribute to Brian Jones / I’m Yours and I’m Hers (Hyde Park 1969)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cQ5VhQMgjYw

Costantino, Maria. Men’s Fashion in the Twentieth Century: from frock coats to intelligent fibres. London: B. T. Batsford LTD, 1997.

Langkjær, Michael A. A case of misconstrued Rock Military Style: Mick Jagger and his Evzone “little girl’s party frock” fustanella, Hyde Park, July 5, 1969. Historical, sociological and methodological approaches. Conference Proceedings, Athens, 9-11 April 2010. Nafplion: Peloponnesian Folklore Foundation, 2012.

Langkjær, Michael A. ‘Then how can you explain Sgt. Pompous and the Fancy Pants Club Band?’ Utilization of Military Uniforms and Other Paraphernalia by Pop Groups and the Youth Counterculture in the 1960s and Subsequent Periods. Textile history, Vol. 41, no. 1. Published online 19 Jul 2013.

https://doi.org/10.1179/174329510X12646114289824

Lester, Richard. Boutique London, A History: King’s Road to Carnaby Street. Suffolk: ACC Editions, 2010.

Luther Hillman, Betty. Dressing for the Culture Wars: Style and the Politics of Self-Presentation in the 1960s and 1970s. Lincoln, Nebraska : University of Nebraska Press, 2015.

Morgen, Brett. Crossfire Hurricane: The Rise of the Stones. London: Milkwood Films, Los Angeles: Tremolo Productions, 18th October 2012.

Sims, Joshua. Rock Fashion, London and New York: Omnibus Press, 1999.

Performing Gender Through Costume in the Takarazuka Revue

The Takarazuka Revue is an all-female performance troupe, formed in 1914. Now one of the biggest theatre companies in the world, the group is known for its spectacular performances with highly trained female actors playing male and female roles.

The leading actors of the Takarazuka Revue are celebrities. Today, they have a global fanbase and entire Wikipedia dedicated to documenting all past and current performances and trivia about the troupe (www.takawiki.com). Yet, before the internet and the increasingly connected world of the post-war era, fans had to find another outlet for their eager engagement with the Revue.

The British Museum has in its collection an incredible example of such engagement: an album of 200 postcard photographs, some signed, of the performers in the Takarazuka Revue, dating to the late 1930s.

Figure 1: Album of 200 postcard photographs of actresses in the Takarazuka revue, with covers in textile. Six of them signed. © The Trustees of the British Museum.
Figure 2: Album of 200 postcard photographs of actresses in the Takarazuka revue, with covers in textile. Six of them signed. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

In these photographs we see the range of characters, periods and styles used by the group. Costuming alone tells us that there were military figures from a range of historic periods, gentlemen, geisha, dancers, swooning young women and the epitome of a 1920s gangster.

This remnant of a bygone age gives us a beautiful insight to the world of Japanese theatre in the 1930s. The highly decorative costumes would have immediately expressed a character’s identity to a theatre audience. The jacket of the figure in the top right corner of the first image is so reflective is can barely be photographed, and the feathered headdress in the image below is so grand it is having to be held upright by its wearer.

These photographs also reveal the visual markers used to denote gender on stage. Beyond the outfits, the actors’ hair is modelled in short, slicked back styles for male characters. Eyebrows are also styled differently, the female characters have longer, thinner brows while their male counterparts style thicker and far straighter brows.

Photographs can tell us about what these actors wore, how they used their faces to convey their characters, and that they were revered enough to be immortalised in an album. However, there are things these photographs lack. Colour, for instance. Staging or the style of the performance too. That is where I bring in this ticket for comparison.

Figure 3: A ¥2 ticket to the Tokyo Takarazuka theater performance on July 17, 1937. www.oldtokyo.com.

This ticket, saved from a Takarazuka theatre performance in Tokyo on the 17th July, 1937, is a drawing. It can therefore can give us a completely different range of insights into the 1930s performances for the Takarazuka Revue.

I must firstly point out the similarity between the figure on this ticket and the actor in the top left corner of the second album page. The resemblance is uncanny and given the similar time period the ticket must either be a representation of that exact actor or at least of the character they were playing in a show at the time.

Gender is expressed in a greater variety of ways through the drawn figure on the ticket. We can see their masculine posture, laid back and confident, dominating the space they stand in with ease. But we also see now what we could not in the photograph, the makeup on their face. The pale skin, rouged cheeks and red lip remind us that this is a female actor playing a male role. There is a sense that, no matter how convincing of a performance the actor could give, the audience must always be reminded that it is not a man they are seeing, but a male-role played by a woman.

The performances of masculinity and femininity in the Takarazuka Revue are exaggerated. The Revue presents a heightened version of femininity and a particularly elegant version of masculinity. In this sense, the Revue exposes the constructed nature of gender but also remains rigidly within the confines of a binary gender system. You are either male or female. At no point does the performance wish to the leave audiences uncertain as to the gender they are seeing performed, or the true gender of the actor in the performance.

The images in this blog post reveal to us the ways that dress and embodied behaviour were used by the Takarazuka Revue to present a strong sense of gender whilst paradoxically also highlighting the fact that gender is indeed a performance.

By Megan Stevenson

 

Sources:

Stickland, Leonie R. 2008. Gender Gymnastics: performing and consuming Japan’s Takarazuka Revue. Melbourne: Trans Pacific Press.

Yamanashi, Makiko. 2012. A History of the Takarazuka Revue Since 1914: Modernity, Girls’ Culture, Japan Pop. Boston: Global Oriental.

“Album of 200 postcard photographs of actresses in the Takarazuka revue, with covers in textile. Six of them signed.” – https://www.britishmuseum.org/collection/object/A_2006-0113-0-1-1-200

“A ¥2 ticket to the Tokyo Takarazuka theater performance on July 17, 1937.” – http://www.oldtokyo.com/takarazuka-gekijo/

The Spectacle of Fashion

Complete with allure, sophistication and sparkle, jewellery has continued to captivate and spark people’s interest, be it in a tiara, a ring or as an uncut gem. It is perhaps of little surprise therefore that a pair of seventeenth-century Mughal spectacles, with diamonds and emeralds as their central lenses, originally conceived from substantial stones weighing at least 200 and 300 carats respectively, became the headline act for Sotheby’s Arts of the Islamic World and India auction held in London on the 27 October 2021. What may be of surprise, however, is that they remain unsold, having failed to reach their combined £3 million estimate, despite the fact that no other examples are believed to exist.

 

Seventeenth-century Mughal Glasses nicknamed Halo of Light. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

 

In the run up to the event, these highly unusual and rare spectacles attracted international media attention, including writeups in news outlets such as BBC and CNN Style, hinting at a potential bidding war and expectation that these glasses were likely to exceed their £1.5-2.5m respective estimates. Comparisons were made to Kylie Jenner’s 2018 MET Gala outfit or Cartier’s diamond glasses as seen at the 2019 Billboard awards, highlighting how all things bling are forevermore in fashion.

 

Seventeenth-century Mughal Glasses nicknamed Gate of Paradise. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

 

I’d also like to throw another comparison into the mix: that of the infamous Rothschild Surrealist Ball of 1972. It was an event which saw fancy dress and opulence operating at new extremes, with costumes designed by the likes of Salvador Dalí himself and well attended by the crème de la crème in society at that time. What’s more, these glasses were created to be worn not simply admired, an impressive and audacious feat in itself. As such and notwithstanding their original provenance, these spectacles once again seem to maintain a contemporary feel despite their seventeenth-century origins, suggesting a continued appetite for lavishness and all that *glitters*, supporting the theory that a diamond (or emerald!) continues to operate at the height of fashion.

 

Two attendees at the Rothschild Surrealist Ball, 1972.

 

This opens up the discussion towards the continued historical and academic research, in part, because the provenance of these glasses is still somewhat contested but also because of the absolute technical prowess they exhibit. Research has concluded that these glasses were conceived in the seventeenth century in India, with the frames developed at a later stage during the nineteenth century. The first pair presented by Sotheby’s is aptly named Emeralds for Paradise (or nicknamed Gate of Paradise) and its central gems can be traced back to the Muzo mines of Colombia; conversely, the diamond lenses forming Diamonds for Light (dubbed Halo of Light) likely came from the Golconda mines of Southern India, but this is still under review.

 

What can be ascertained, however, is that these glasses are exemplary in demonstrating the fusion between science with beauty and tradition, with each pair believed to possess unique healing properties – emeralds have been used as early as 1CE as a means of combating strained eyes but were also seen as a key aid in warding off evil. On the other hand, diamonds were considered to have illuminating properties, and the skilful cut of the flat-cut diamonds ensures that transparency is retained when the glasses are worn, thereby offering enlightenment to its wearer.

 

One of the rumoured owners of these extraordinary glasses is emperor Jahangir who was the fourth Mughal Emperor, ruling from 1605 to 1627. At a time where the monarchy set the standard (and boundaries, legal or otherwise) as definers of elegance and sophistication, it seems fitting that an emperor would have guaranteed – the implicit or explicit – exclusive ownership of such elaborate pieces. This can be partly determined by a willingness to sacrifice the majority of a 200-carat diamond to make two flat-cut diamonds, totalling a comparatively modest 25 carats for the Halo of Light spectacles, with the same process being repeated to provide the two flat-cut emeralds for the Gate of Paradise spectacles.

 

Painting of the Peacock Throne, commissioned by Emperor Shah Jahan in early 17th Century India.

Perhaps adding credibility to such a theory is the fact that Jahangir (in his twelfth year as ruler) gifted himself an article of clothing in the form of a sleeveless over-tunic (named the nadiri) that he alone could wear, only ever extending this to his inner circle. Indeed, one of the recipients was his son and successor Shah Jahan who ruled from 1628 to 1658. During his reign, Shah Jahan commissioned the famous and hugely opulent ‘Peacock Throne’, which featured the 186-carat diamond named Koh-i-Noor (now part of the British Crown Jewels). He too is rumoured to be the original owner of these glasses, with the central emeralds believed to have offered aid to soothe his eyes, following an extended period of mourning after the loss of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

 

While there is plenty left to say about these extraordinary glasses, I shall conclude with this: should bling be your thing, and if you can afford to splash the cash, then I hope they’ll be back up for auction ASAP. But in the meantime, if you want to feel like royalty on a budget, then why not try this great alternative: https://www.ebay.com/itm/Princess-Glasses-1-Pc-Apparel-Accessories-1-Piece-/164141097819

 

By Georgina Johnston-Watt

 

Sources:

 

Belfanti, Carlo Marco, ‘Was Fashion a European Invention?’ in Journal of Global History, no. 3 (2008), pp. 419-43

 

https://www.sothebys.com/en/buy/auction/2021/arts-of-the-islamic-world-india-including-fine-rugs-and-carpets-2/a-pair-of-mughal-spectacles-set-with-emerald?locale=en

 

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-58825741

 

https://edition.cnn.com/style/article/diamond-glasses-emerald-mughal-auction/index.html

 

https://therake.com/stories/icons/party-animals-the-rothschild-surrealist-ball/

Pampooties and Brogues: A Folkloric History

It was during my undergraduate degree when I first came across the word Pampootie in environs outside of my own home. It was discussed during a lesson centered around a study of Jack B. Yeats and his illustrations for William M. Synge’s book The Aran Islands. My professor began to describe the dress of The Aran Man (below) when she referred to his light leather shoes as Pampooties. Growing up my mother had always called our children’s shoes Pampooties, which lead me to think of it as nothing more than a made-up word which my family used. Clearly, I was wrong. This initial introduction to the Pampootie in the wider world typifies the myth and dynamism which animates the shoe’s history.

Figure 1: An Island Man, Jack B. Yeats, Sligo County Library and Museum

The pampootie is the traditional shoe of the Aran Islands off the coast of Galway in the west of Ireland. The shoe consists of a flat piece of cow hide punctured with holes around its edges which are laced with leather thong and tightly wrapped around the foot. This basic attempt towards the fashioning of a protective foot covering stands as the common ancestor to the modern brogue shoe, as a derivative of the Irish word Bróg (meaning shoe). Yet the humble pampootie style still exists as a more historically modern version of the shoe, as the brogue style can be traced back to prehistoric times. In 1967 a horde of exquisitely preserved brogues were discovered in a bog in County Mayo which were dated back to the year 1965BC. In many ways these shoes may be considered more artistically advanced than the pampootie, as the ornamental holes characteristic of the modern brogue can be identified. Thus, despite the pampootie’s modern use the silhouette of the classic brogue which one may recognize today is far older.

Figure 2: Peter Phatch Faherty lacing his Pampooties, 1952. Getty Images

Here the mythology of the pampootie and the brogue must be addressed. In 1992 artist Brad Legg wrote his “avowedly populist” The Stars and the Brogue: Ancient Astronomy and Footwear in Ireland in which he compares the hole designs of brogues to the star patterns of the spring equinox of 1800BC. Similarly, this explanation for the shoe design was widely popular throughout the Victorian era. It can be argued that the discovery of such a bountiful horde of ornamented brogues in 1967 drives home this assertion as they were possibly gathered as a sacred offering to the pagan gods.

Figure 3: A selection of Celtic and Viking Ornaments which Victorian Scholars compared to Brogue patterns.

However, other interpretations of the holes have become more widely accepted. Many believe that the brogue’s punctures serve an entirely functional purpose, as the holes provided drainage whilst walking along the often damp and waterlogged ground of rural Ireland. Others attest that the shoes were fitted to the wearer a size too big so they may be filled with straw to absorb the wet.

Additional speculation surrounds the name of the ‘pampootie’ and where it converges with the brogue.  No one is quite sure where the seemingly exotic sounding ‘pampootie’ finds its origins, yet some have hypothesized that it is perhaps an alteration of the Turkish word ‘papoosh’ or slipper. Irrespective of that correlation, it is most likely that the brogue and the pampootie later became united through the shortening of the word pampootie to the Irish word Bróg or shoe, as aforementioned.

Nonetheless, the necessity of function over form replaced the decorative and descriptive qualities of the early pampootie, and only remerged through the revival of the shoe in the twentieth century. No conclusion can ever be outrightly drawn from many of these notions, yet it is through the mysticism surrounding the design of the shoe which we may examine its modern interpretation as it finds a secure home in the contemporary wardrobe.

In the early twentieth century the brogue’s functional and formal characteristics finally harmoniously merged in the modern variation of the shoe. The dual inclusion of a sturdy leather construction alongside the ornamental hole patterns poised the brogue as a classic country walking shoe for the twentieth century gentleman. Advertisements emphasize the traditional nature of the shoe and use its historical precedent to sell ideas of reliability and comfort.

Figure 4: Abbot & Sons “Super Brogues” Advertisement, 1919. Shutterstock

Thus, throughout the twentieth century the brogue form underwent many iterations and alterations as the traditional holed pattern took on new silhouettes as the century progressed. As made clear by the Cosmopolitan article below, by the mid century the brogue had been translated to walk the pavements of the burgeoning cityscape.

Figure 5: Cosmopolitan Article “Shoe Talk”, 1968, ProQuest

Later brogues became an iconic symbol within artistic and cultural movements, as evidenced by the iconic image of Twiggy below. This photograph taken in 1972 features a pair of brogues made by renowned British shoemaker George Cleverley. Cleverley exclusively made shoes for men but was convinced to make an exception in this case for Twiggy.

Figure 6: Twiggy in George Cleverley Brogues, 1972, Getty Images

Thus, both the brogue and the pampootie occupy a fascinatingly ambiguous space within the lexicon of modern dress. The myriad of myths surrounding the footwear informs the modern understanding of the shoes as both contemporarily relevant and deeply historical.

By Victoria FitzGerald

 

Sources:

“Brogue – Word History”. Word-Origins .com. Last modified July 18, 2011. https://web.archive.org/web/20110718083106/http://www.word-origins.com/definition/brogue.html

Hall, Joseph Sparks. The Book of the Feet: A History of Boots and Shoes. Second Edition. London: Read Books, 2017.

Hall, Michael. “Brogues and the Stars: on an Archaeological Controversy.” Country Life 187, no. 13 (1993): 94. https://www.proquest.com/magazines/brogues-stars/docview/1521579963/se-2?accountid=10277.

“Pampootie”. Merriam-Webster.com. Last modified October 24 2021. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pampootie

“Shoe Talk: A new Kind of Brogue.” Cosmopolitan 165, no. 5 (11, 1968): 54. https://www.proquest.com/magazines/shoe-talk-new-kind-brogue/docview/2007367987/se-2?accountid=10277.

“Twiggy in Cleverley”.  Iconic Images.net. Last modified 24 October 2021. https://iconicimages.net/photo/jdv-tw018-twiggy-in-cleverley/

 

 

 

 

The Jewels of Fabergé

In 1914, American Vogue took note of a little shop on Bond Street in London that produced exquisite pieces unparalleled in their ‘beauty and delicacy of workmanship’ as well as their ‘bold presentment of form and color.’ The London shop was one branch of the famed Russian jewellery house, Fabergé.

Fabergé Bond Street, London, 1914.

Founded in 1842 by Gustav Fabergé, the St. Petersburg jewellery firm gained worldwide recognition for the intricate detail of its pieces, as well as its comprehensive knowledge of enamelwork. When Gustav’s son, Peter Carl Fabergé, took over the company in 1882, he developed a close working relationship with the last two Tsars of Russia, Alexander III and Nicholas II. Until the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, both Alexander the III and Nicholas II ordered numerous custom Fabergé eggs annually as presents for family members. Each egg usually contained a surprise, from family portraits to miniature coaches, to mechanical songbirds. Many were comprised of enamel, while others were made of rock crystal, gold, or other sumptuous materials. The first egg, known as the Hen Egg or Jewelled Hen Egg, was given by Alexander III to his wife, Maria Feodorovna, as an Easter gift in 1885. The family developed a fondness for the elaborate, inventive eggs and would order fifty-three more before the Revolution.

The Hen Egg designed for Maria Feodorovna in 1885. Stan Honda / Getty Images.

Some of the most awe-inspiring eggs include the Lilies of the Valley Easter Egg from 1898, the Bay Tree Egg from 1911, the Renaissance Egg from 1894, and the Winter Egg from 1913.

The Renaissance Egg, given by Tsar Alexander III to his wife, Empress Maria Feodorovna in 1894. David Lefranc / Getty Images.
The Lilies of the Valley Easter Egg, given by Tsar Nicholas II to his wife, Empress Alexandra Feodorovna, in 1898. Stan Honda / Getty Images.
The Bay Tree Egg, given by Tsar Nicholas II to his mother, Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna in 1911. Stan Honda / Getty Images.
The Winter Egg, given by Tsar Nicholas II to his mother, Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna in 1913. Sergei Ilnitsky / EPA / Shutterstock.

The Imperial Egg shape has been reimagined in pieces including pendants, bracelets, and earrings from the company’s Heritage collection. Additionally, the essences of specific eggs have been infused into subsequent collections. For example, the house produced a collection of fine jewellery with Rococo influences, stemming from the 18th century Rocaille Egg. Another collection comprised designs reminiscent of the jewellery Fabergé first released upon its founding in 1842.

Heritage Yellow Gold, Diamond & Turquoise Guilloché Enamel Egg Drop Earrings, https://www.faberge.com/jewellery
Fabergé Rococo Yellow Gold Multicoloured Gemstone Grande Pendant, https://www.faberge.com/jewellery
Fabergé 1842 Yellow Gold & Diamond Signature Ring, https://www.faberge.com/jewellery

Two extraordinary pieces worn by Kristin Davis at the Oliver Awards in London in 2014 highlight the house’s artistic flexibility. The Cascade de Fleurs Earrings nod to Art Nouveau and the Belle Époque, while the Mazurka Bangle mirrors the Rococo line.

Kristin Davis wearing the Fabergé Cascade de Fleurs Earrings and Mazurka Bangle at the Olivier Awards at the Royal Opera House in London in 2014, Rune Hellestad / Getty Images.

I have always admired the house of Fabergé’s ability to seamlessly knit gemstones together in a delicate manner that highlights the beauty of each stone. The below Fabergé ring was given by my father to my mother when they found out they were expecting me, and she passed it on to me on my twenty-first birthday. I rarely take it off! In addition to its sentimental importance to me, I am also awed by the artistry and grace of its design. The woven bands of metal holding each stone flow like liquid, forming a delicate web of gold.

Fabergé ring. Photograph by author.

Overall, the jewels of Fabergé endure in popularity nearly three hundred years after the house’s founding due to its ability to steadfastly honour its history while consistently inventing new styles of jewellery. Though the eggs remain the house’s more recognizable signature, every piece possesses its own elegant flair and demonstrated expertise.

By Genevieve Davis

Sources

“Features: A Craftsman to the Czar.” Vogue 43, no. 2 (Jan 15, 1914): 40. https://www.proquest.com/magazines/features-craftsman-czar/docview/911849950/se-2?accountid=10277.

https://www.faberge.com

Evocative Dress in ‘Noël Coward: Art & Style’

On Wednesday, we went on our long-anticipated Documenting Fashion excursion to Guildhall Art Gallery’s new exhibition, Noël Coward: Art & Style. The exhibition, that opened on June 14 and will run until late December, offers a behind-the-curtain view into the glamorous world of prolific British playwright and ‘Renaissance man’ Noël Coward.

As a gay man from a working-class background, he was an outsider to his environment in many ways, and as a result constructed his image meticulously. In both his personal life and on stage, he strove for a luxurious kind of ‘playful glamour’ and Guildhall Art Gallery thus curates a striking display of Coward’s rich visual realm.

Structured loosely chronologically, we are taken on an intimate journey through Noël Coward’s life. The exhibition greets us with the playwright’s famous fashion trademark: the silk dressing gown. Tied unusually – as he always did – to the side, the mannequin poses nonchalantly with hand-in-pocket. The other respectably gloved hand holds a long cigarette holder. This exhibit presents such an evocative quality of Coward: the man who was ‘determined to travel through life first class’.

Noel Coward with Marlene Dietrich. Accessed via https://www.anothermag.com/art-photography/2203/noel-coward

We are invited to examine an array of Coward’s pristinely preserved makeup tools and behind-the-scenes sketches of the costume design for iconic stage songs such as ‘Dance Little Lady’ from This Year of Grace (1928). Another section of the exhibition showcases black and white photographs of Coward with stars like Marlene Dietrich and Lauren Bacall, emblems of Hollywood glamour during his time in America.

Costume by Edward Henry Molyneux for Gertrude Lawrence in Private Lives, 1930 (modern reconstruction). White satin bias-cut evening dress with white silk belt and gardenias. Dress reconstruction by Henry Wilkinson. Researched and supervised by Timothy Morgan-Owen. Photo by Kathryn Reed

A particularly striking element of the exhibition was the exhibition’s evocative display of clothing. On a raised semi-circular platform a white satin bias-cut evening dress with a white silk belt is displayed, that drapes gracefully to the floor. The neckline is decorated with a delicate artificial gardenia. This is a modern reconstruction of the dress that Gertrude Lawrence wore in Act I of Private Lives (1930) originally designed by British couturier Edward Henry Molyneux. The backdrop is a deep, midnight blue backlit art deco-style panel; the colour and lighting seems to accentuate the cool, bewitching, and glamorous aura of the dress. With the mannequin being physically raised on the platform, it evokes a sense of grandeur and celebrity.

Another experimental display of dress is a dark red chiffon dress with taffeta ruffles designed by Sir Norman Bishop Hartnell, a designer who worked often for Noël Coward.  On a seventeenth-century Queen Anne chaise longue in a dusky pink velvet, the dress is draped, as if it still holds the memory of being worn on a reclining, celebrity body.

Chiffon and taffeta dress on Coward’s chaise longue by Sir Norman Bishop Hartnell. Photo by Kathryn Reed.

His luxury image translated into all aspects of his life, and Art & Style shows a section of the ostentatious antique furniture that adorned his homes. In his later life he moved to Jamaica, a country he felt great love towards, and began to paint landscapes of the country – a hobby into which the exhibition provides a personal peek.

A final section of the exhibition displays contemporary dress designs inspired by Coward and his world, by American designer Anna Sui. It bids us farewell with a final room that play videos of his performances, and even personal home videos of him and his friends.

Noël Coward: Art & Style presents us with the opulent chicness of the inter-war years of celebrity glamour, as well as a never-seen-before glimpse into the visual artefacts of his personal life.

Entry to the exhibition is free.

By Kathryn Reed

Sources:

Noel Coward, Another Magazine, https://www.anothermag.com/art-photography/2203/noel-coward

 

Runaway Brides: Tartan Wedding Dresses and Scottish Rebellion

Tartan is a fabric of rebellion, and it has long held appeal with those who consider themselves to be outsiders.

In 1745, the Scottish House of Stuart led the Jacobite Army in an unsuccessful attempt to seize the British throne from King George II. Following the uprising, a series of laws were enacted to subdue the fiercely independent Jacobites. The Dress Act of 1746, one of these laws, made tartan dress illegal in the United Kingdom. Anyone who wore tartan or other signifiers of traditional Scottish dress could face fines, imprisonment or exile.

However, The Dress Act of 1746 seemed only to strengthen the power of tartan. People across the United Kingdom began wearing full tartan outfits in defiance of the British government. Artists painted influential figures dressed in tartan but left their paintings unsigned, fearing that they would be punished for these public displays of dissent. Tartan became a signifier of anti-establishment attitudes, a very punk choice in the 18th century.

In 1974, Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren opened their boutique SEX to cater to the burgeoning Punk rock scene in London. Westwood stocked the shop with every type of plaid imaginable, and soon the Sex Pistols were singing out against the British government in full tartan suits, just like the Jacobites nearly two hundred years before them.

Vivienne Westwood, Wedding Ensemble, Anglomania, Autumn/Winter 1993, National Gallery of Australia, NGA 94.278.1-4.A-B.

This 1993 wedding dress by Vivienne Westwood is a vision of tartan excess, crafted from yards of plaid silk that cascade over a bloom of tulle in coordinating colours. Though the concept of a tartan wedding dress is unorthodox, it is not purely a whim of Westwood’s wild imagination and is rooted deeply in the history of Scottish fashion. The Isabella MacTavish Fraser Wedding Gown provides an example – a rare one, albeit – of a tartan wedding gown dating back to 1785. Though many details about the spectacular Isabella MacTavish Fraser Wedding Gown remain shrouded in mystery, the tartan of the dress can be identified as one woven between 1775 and 1784. This means that it was likely created while The Dress Act of 1746 was still in place, making this wedding dress an illegal creation.

Isabella MacTavish Fraser Wedding Gown, 1785, Inverness Museum and Art Gallery.

The headpiece that accompanies Westwood’s dress makes reference to a traditional piece of women’s Highland dress known as the earasaid. The earasaid is a length of pleated fabric that would be wrapped around the head like a veil and affixed at the waist. Although there is little information available on women’s dress in the Highlands before the turn of the 18th century, some historical evidence suggests that the wearing of the earasaid could date back to Pictish times. By the 1800s, written accounts and sketches of working-class women in earasaids were circulated across the United Kingdom, solidifying the trend as a hallmark of Scottish brides, even though the accuracy of these accounts remains contestable. Westwood recalls the earasaid with her veil’s gentle pleats and billowing volume but elevates its humble origins by pairing it with a regal gown of matching plaid.

A Victorian interpretation of how the earasaid may have looked. Robert Ronald McIan, plate from The Clans of the Scottish Highlands, 1845.

In a thoroughly contemporary interpretation of bridal traditions, Kate Moss first wore this gown down the runway at Westwood’s Autumn/Winter 1993 show with the bodice lowered to reveal one of her breasts. Preserving her modesty was a handful of flowers that once again harken back to tartan’s origins. Moss’s bouquet is studded with white roses, the symbol of the Jacobite army. Women participants in the Jacobite rebellion would often have their portraits painted with white roses tucked into the bodices of their dresses and their hair to signify their allegiance to the cause.

Vivienne Westwood, Wedding Ensemble, Anglomania, Autumn/Winter 1993. Runway photograph courtesy of Vogue Runway.

The bride who selects this dress to wear on her wedding day, likely one of the most publicly visible events of her life, chooses consciously not to perform the societal role expected of her. This wedding gown eschews the notion of brides dressing in virginal white, and it recalls a raucous national identity far more than a standard wifely one. With its earasaid and Jacobite references, this dress pays homage to the oft-overlooked women participants in the radical movements of Scottish history.

Westwood is one of the foundational contributors to tartan’s punk reputation, but she has also worked to ensure the medium’s longevity beyond the punk rock movement and, almost certainly conscious of her status as an Englishwoman, to emphasise its unique Scottish heritage. This dress is cut from MacAndreas tartan, a sett of tartan created by Westwood as a romantic tribute to her husband and collaborator Andreas Kronthaler. MacAndreas tartan is now officially listed in the Scottish Register of Tartans. Westwood has also created many of her tartan garments in accordance with the Harris Tweed Act, a 1993 Act of Parliament which seeks to protect and promote the traditional methods of woollen fabric weaving in Scotland.

From the Dress act of 1746 to the Harris Tweed Act of 1993, the lawmaking that surrounds tartan begs the question: why is tartan something institutions feel the need to control? Is it a dangerously influential pattern that incites revolt across centuries? Is it a precious national resource that must be protected at all costs? For the bride who dons a tartan wedding dress, one thing is certain. Tartan is a testament to fierce individuality and national history, suitable to dress herself in for one of the most sacred days of her life.

By Ruby Redstone

Sources:

Faiers, Jonathan. Tartan. London: Bloomsbury, 2008

Inverness Museum and Art Gallery online. ‘The Isabella Project’. Published February 2020.https://www.highlifehighland.com/inverness-museum-and-art-gallery/the-isabella-project/

MacDonald, Peter Eslea. ‘Musing on the Arisaid and Other Female Dress.’ Scottish Tartans online. Published 2016.https://www.scottishtartans.co.uk/Musings_on_the_arisaid_and_other_female_dress.pdf

Maspero, Ida. ‘Tartan Romance,’ National Museums Scotland online. Published 26 May 2019. https://blog.nms.ac.uk/2019/05/26/tartan-romance/

Scottish Tartans Authority. ‘Tartan and the Dress Act of 1746.’ Accessed 28 February 2021. http://www.tartansauthority.com/resources/archives/the-archives/scobie/tartan-and-the-dress-act-of-1746/

The Scottish Register of Tartans. ‘Westwood MacAndreas.’ Published 1 January 1993. https://www.tartanregister.gov.uk/tartanDetails?ref=5530

V&A online. ‘Vivienne Westwood: A taste for the past’. Last accessed 15 February 2021. https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/vivienne-westwood-a-taste-for-the-past

Watt, Patrick and Rosie Waine. Wild and Majestic: Romantic Visions of Scotland. Edinburgh: National Museum of Scotland, 2019