Tag Archives: fashion history

Styling Our Future, Looking To The Past

1930s fashion has always appealed to me. Whether the beautiful flowing drapery of Madeleine Vionnet or the sharp suits worn by Marlene Dietrich, much of the fashion of the decade developed the freedom in dress that we come to appreciate now – both in terms of gender fluid dress, and comfort.

The art deco movement was a key influence on fashion of the time, encouraging a celebration of technological developments and an optimism for the future in its luxurious style. Here and now, as we emerge from the covid-19 pandemic with a sense of relief, but a variety of sources for future anxieties ever-present, it is time for a reinvigoration of that same hope in human ingenuity, celebration of technological developments and optimism for the future. We need comfort, strength and vibrancy, and I think we should be looking to 1930s fashion for inspiration.

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Anna May Wong in 1933, photographed by Paul Tanqueray
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“Fashion: Ladies’ Evening Shirts by Lanvin.” Vogue 84, no. 3 (Aug 01, 1934). Photo by Horst P. Horst. © 2012 Conde Nast

A range of comfortable ensembles are documented in the early 1930s. Anna May Wong wears an elegant, loosely fitted dress and leans against a doorway to convey her relaxed manner. Similarly, the model of Falkenstein in the August 1934 issue of Vogue leans against the wall. A rare appearance of trousers in early 1930s Vogue, the image shows a woman comfortable yet glamourous, wearing a tunic which resembles very stylish and eveningwear appropriate dressing-gown.

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Blues Musicians, Geeshie Wiley and L.V. ‘Slack’ Thomas wearing Beach Pajamas, 1930-31

Moving from comfortable formalwear to comfortable daywear, the beach pyjamas worn by Geeshie Wiley and L. V. ‘Slack’ Thomas are outfits not only that would still be incredible on any beach, but likely will be reflected by many at the Courtauld’s graduation ceremony this summer. Wide-legged trousers and a fitted waist have been in style already for the past few years, but I’d like to see the style with more bright colours and comfortable cotton fabrics.

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Été 1933, Madeline Wallis, V&A

And what should we wear when there is work to be done? An oversized cardigan with deep pockets in a stunning sage green, of course. An increase in sportswear and ready-to-wear in the 1930s led to a much higher interest in collegiate fashions, such as the varsity jacket and cardigans. The flip side of increased ready-to-wear was a rise in cheaper, lower quality garments. Today, with fast fashion booming and brands like Shein churning out an endless array of garments, it is more important than ever to find clothing that we love and will wear for many years, rather than single use pieces so cheaply made that they will inevitably end up on landfill. Clothing that can be styled in multiple ways, worn in many contexts and brings us joy is vital to us having a more sustainable relationship with our wardrobe. A deep pocketed cardigan perfectly fits the bill for me.

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Marlene Dietrich in Paris, 1933

Uncertainty and anxiety have prevailed in recent years. As we move past what has been a difficult period for many, it seems only right that we do so feeling empowered and true to ourselves. Whether or not this means buying your own power suit – you decide. But Marlene Dietrich provides inspiration not only in her incredible suit-wearing, but also in her certainty that what she wanted to wear, what she felt good in, was for her to decide. For all my advocation of a need to revive 1930s fashion, I would like to conclude by moving away from the styles that dominated that period, and rather draw attention to the underlying themes of self-assurance, comfort, and joy. It is these that we should carry with us and cultivate through our wardrobe.

By Megan Stevenson

Bibliography

Arnold, Rebecca. The American Look: Fashion, Sportswear and the Image of Women in 1930s and 1940s America (2009, London)

Wilson, Elizabeth. Adorned in Dream: Fashion and Modernity (2003, London)

https://www.reddit.com/r/costumeporn/comments/k5blr1/marlene_dietrich_in_paris_1933/

https://www.vam.ac.uk/articles/art-deco-fashion

https://vintagedancer.com/1930s/1930s-black-fashion-african-american-clothing-photos/

https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O532676/%C3%A9t%C3%A9-1933-fashion-design-madeleine-wallis/

https://www.anothermag.com/fashion-beauty/gallery/9950/night-and-day-1930s-fashion-and-photographs/10

 

 

 

 

 

Zooming In On Margaret Bourke-White

A little while back, I stumbled across Margaret Bourke-White whilst looking up 20th Century female photographers, discovering her work among others such as Germaine Krull and Grete Stern. It goes without saying that each of these women were respectively brilliant at working behind the lens, and each are deserving of a writeup, but I was especially drawn to Bourke-White’s photographs of Marina Semyonova (fig. 1).

 

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Figure One: Marina Semyonova by Margaret Bourke-White. Photo: MOMA

 

Taken at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, this photo shows Semyonova – the first Soviet-trained prima ballerina – preparing herself ahead of a ballet performance. Semyonova’s body is folded into itself, revealing the physical contortions and movement required of her in order to reach and tie her ballet shoes. Her posture is considered, and the chair acts as a prop to help elongate her body and better display her ballet shoe all the while creating a tension between her body and the billowing tutu which surrounds her and presses upon the back of the chair. Semyonova is artfully staged, and her pose emulates the exaggerated stillness of the photographic form, reinforcing the expectation for ballerinas to always appear elegant, not just during a performance. Her left leg is deliberately aligned in a nod to her profession, recreating one half of the en pointe position and her outstretched arms provide an extension of the en pointe motif. This creates a clear shot for which Bourke-White could effectively capture Semyonova, allowing Bourke-White to play with light to illuminate Semyonova’s body and project a shadow onto the far wall.

With that said, what I found most appealing about this photo, is despite this photo having an editorial-like feel, the loose threads on Semyonova’s ballet shoes offer a reminder of the countless hours of practice required to become a ballerina, displaying the real-life implications of such a profession. This suggest that whilst Semyonova displays poise and elegance, these attributes have been mastered over time. However, the loose threads could also be linked to the USSR in relation to its second five-year plan which sought to prioritise agricultural and self-sufficiency ahead of consumer goods and frivolity, and the loose threads thereby reveal the unravelling of previous political and cultural practices.

Through considering such a beautiful photo, I wanted to discover more about Bourke-White’s work, particularly as this photo was taken during the political unease of the Soviet Union. My research revealed that Bourke-White excelled as a photographer and whose accomplishments were plentiful. Born in 1904, Margaret Bourke-White would go on to set up her own photography studio in 1928 in Ohio, but her work would soon take her abroad, namely to the likes of Russia, South Korea, India and Pakistan where she was commissioned to document moments of political divide, wars and social unrest.

To name but a few of her impressive feats, Bourke-White was the first US photographer to enter the Soviet Union, the first US accredited female war photographer during WWII and responsible for the first cover for LIFE Magazine (fig. 2).

 

Life
Figure Two: Cover of ‘LIFE’ Magazine (23 November 1936). Photo: ‘LIFE’ Magazine Archives via Google Books.

 

This cover highlights Bourke-White’s unique ability to take an imposing architectural structure and create a striking and an arresting image. She was commissioned to photograph this multi-million-dollar project of the Columbia River Basin and the construction of its impressive dam. The angle at which Bourke-White captured this photo and its emphasis on the symmetry of each of the concrete structures makes them appear – at least in my mind – as gigantic chess pieces bearing a similarity in shape to the ‘Rook’, with the two individuals symbolically positioned as pawns within this almighty chess board. The vibrant orange of the cover contrasts with the black and white image, at once cropping and framing the two individuals stood at the foot of the structure. The shot appears to reinforce the idea that these structures are in fact man made, with the two individuals attesting to the labour required to build such structures, and yet conveys the structures as colossal, unnatural, and otherworldly. Indeed, the editors notes that in commissioning Bourke-White they unexpectedly received, ‘a human document of American frontier life which, to them at least, was a revelation.’ This very observation highlights the talents of Bourke-White, and her ability to capture life within an otherwise intimidating concrete structure. This style of photography also calls to mind El Lissitzy and his photomontages for the SSSR na stroike (trans: USSR in construction) in 1932, with the overall global emphasis on self-sufficiency, driven by its workforce, who become the centre of El Lissitzy’s photomontage (fig. 3). This theme is echoed in Bourke-White’s photography, and the two share similar aims in trying to establish the strength of their respective cities and nations. To this effect, Bourke-White’s photography could be considered an artistic response to Constructivist periodical layouts and El Lissitzy’s earlier work.

 

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Figure Three: Photomontage of SSSR na stroike (trans: USSR in contruction) by El Lissitzky. Issue 10 (1932). Photo: Bookvica.

 

The final photograph I would like to discuss is a self-portrait, rumoured to be Bourke-White’s favourite self-portrait, made with the U.S. 8th Air Force in 1943 (fig. 4).

 

Self-Portrait
Figure Four: Margaret Bourke-White’s self-portrait made with the U.S. 8th Air Force in 1943. Photo: The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock.

 

In a similar vein to Bourke-White’s cover for LIFE Magazine, this photo marries machinery and industrial elements with humanity. While the airplane’s jets have been switched off, this photo conveys the necessity to be on constant standby, responding to any changes quickly and efficiently. Bourke-White has a tight hold of the large camera, figuratively and literally held down by the camera, and carries her flying helmet and goggles in her other hand with comparative ease. To this effect, this photo is suggestive of the precarity of the war and the need to be on constant alert as well as Bourke-White’s role to document the events. This is further reinforced by the inclusion of the plane in the frame – its proximity reinforces the fact that it is only a matter of time before this unit needs to reembark the plane.

At the same time, Bourke-White’s stance is relaxed yet upright, smiling as the wind blows through her hair. The tongues of her shoes are flopped over, giving the impression of a rare moment of respite, reinforced by the fact that their surroundings appear bare and uninhabited, suggesting a minimised threat or danger. The aviator jacket is fit with shearling trimmings, and complete with matching trousers, also lined with shearling, featuring leg-long zips and stained with a white powder residue. The crease patterns, particularly on the trousers, suggest the cramped conditions of the plane and it would appear as though Bourke-White has barely stepped off the plane. While her stance is relaxed, and she is surrounded by an expansive empty landscape, the trousers act as her ‘second skin’ and become a reminder that she did not have the luxury of space a few moments ago, and the trousers have not yet and will not likely get the chance to mould to their new surroundings, complete with the luxury of space, or Bourke-White’s standing pose.

Sadly, Margaret Bourke-White contracted Parkinson’s disease in 1953 and completed her last assignment for LIFE in 1957. With that said, she displayed great determination in trying to overcome the symptoms of her Parkinson’s, undergoing risky surgeries, and in true documentary photographer style, publicised and documented her fight against the disease, cementing her status as a formidable character and individual (fig. 5). She sadly passed away in 1971 but while her career was cut short by Parkinson’s, Bourke-White was rightly recognised in her lifetime as a true pioneer in documentary photography, particularly as a female photographer for her ability to uniquely capture people and places in and amongst periods of great change, showcasing their struggles and strengths.

 

Bourke-White
Figure Five: A nurse aiding photographer Margaret Bourke-White during a therapy session by Alfred Eisenstaedt. Photo: The LIFE Picture Collection/Shutterstock.

 

By Georgina Johnston-Watt

Sources:

https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=N0EEAAAAMBAJ&printsec=frontcover&hl=fr&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q=margaret&f=false

https://www.bookvica.com/pages/books/1291/el-lissitzky-and-his-photomontages-sssr-na-stroike-i-e-ussr-in-construction-10-for-1932

https://www.life.com/history/great-lady-with-a-camera-margaret-bourke-white-american-original/

https://www.life.com/lifestyle/parkinsons-disease-life-magazine/

Three Beautiful Films: A 50s, 60s and 70s Film You Must Watch Purely for the Visual Pleasure:

** This blog post contains spoilers for Mad About Men (1954), La Piscine (1969) and Mahogany (1975) **

Sometimes I want to watch a film, not really for the plot, but for either the fashion, the cinematography, the set design or even just the general aesthetic. So, just in case anyone else has the same penchant for beautiful films, I’ve comprised a short list of three recommendations from the 50s, 60s and 70s respectively.

Mad About Men (1954):

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Mad About Men Movie Poster, IMDB.

Mad About Men is the charming sequel to the 1948 comedy film Miranda in which a lonely mermaid captures a young man and only offers to release him on the basis that he will take her to London. In Mad About Men, set in Cornwall, Miranda Trewella (Glynis Johns) returns and convinces her distant relative and doppelgänger Caroline Trewella (Glynis Johns) to let her take her place whilst Caroline goes on a biking excursion with a friend. In order to do this, Caroline fakes an accident which leaves her wheelchair bound, explaining Miranda’s inability to walk and need to keep her ‘legs’ covered with warm blankets. The pair also hire Nurse Carey (Margaret Rutherford), who knows Miranda is a mermaid and helped her in the first film too. However, even though Caroline is engaged back in London to the dull but stable Ronald Baker (Peter Martyn), Miranda playing as Caroline cannot help herself when she meets some of the town’s most handsome men, and she flirts, dates and kisses both Jeff Saunders (Donald Sinden) and Colonel Barclay Sutton (Nicholas Phipps). When Ronald comes to visit ‘Caroline’ in Cornwall, Miranda takes an immediate dislike to him and ends up pouring cold fish soup over his head. The Colonel’s wife is suspicious of ‘Caroline’ and ends up discovering her secret, so, in a plot to expose her, she agrees to let ‘Caroline’ sing at a charity concert and plans to reveal her mermaid tail on stage. However, Caroline gets back from her trip and takes Miranda’s place on stage whilst the Nurse feeds the microphone down to the cove where Miranda lives so her siren-esque singing voice can still be heard. The film ends with the real Caroline and Jeff Saunders sharing a kiss whilst Miranda is safely back in the Cornish Sea.

Despite mentioning earlier that plot isn’t important when watching for purely aesthetic reasons, this film is so fun and light-hearted it is difficult not to enjoy the story and fall in love with Miranda whilst you watch it.  However, where this film really shines is in highlighting the wistful and whimsical beauty of Miranda and the more prim and proper styling of Caroline.  Joan Ellacott’s costuming and Glynis Johns’ acting allows for viewers to differentiate easily between the Trewella girls. Here are some of the best style/aesthetic moments…

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Caroline Trewella on the train from London to Cornwall. Still from Mad About Men (1954).
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Caroline and Miranda’s first meeting. Still from Mad About Men (1954).
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Caroline’s charity concert dress. Still from Mad About Men (1954).
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A full length view of Caroline’s concert dress. Still from Mad About Men (1954).

La Piscine (1969):

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La Piscine Movie Poster, IMDB.

If you’re craving some warmth, you must watch 1969’s La Piscine, a film where the Southern French sunshine seems to seep through the screen. This film is the epitome of ‘embodied viewing’ where you can feel the sun and water on your skin, and you can smell the heat in the air. La Piscine is set in a villa on the French Riviera where a couple, Marianne (Romy Schneider) and Jean-Paul (Alain Delon) are enjoying the summer. After finding out Marianne and Jean-Paul are nearby, the couple’s old friend Harry (Maurice Ronet) and his daughter Penelope (Jane Birkin) come and stay. Whilst this initially consists of old friends catching up and new memories being made through extravagant parties, tensions soon begin to rise when Jean-Paul realises that Marianne and Harry were once lovers. The situation further complicates itself when Jean-Paul decides to seduce Harry’s 18-year-old daughter Penelope. The two men, whilst drunk, end up getting into a fight which culminates with Harry falling into the swimming pool. From here, instead of helping him out, Jean-Paul proceeds to drown him and then stages the scene to look like an accident. Marianne eventually finds out what Jean-Paul did but both continue to lie to the police and eventually the case is closed with Harry’s death being marked as an accident. The film ends with Penelope returning to her mother and Jean-Paul seemingly forcing Marianne to stay with him at the villa.

This film is beautiful all-round. The French Riviera location, the impressive villa, the cast and, perhaps most importantly the dressing and undressing of bodies. The theme of the body is central throughout this film, with long, toned and sun-kissed limbs filling the poolside shots. Here are some of the most beautiful outfits, shots and scenes…

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Jane Birkin’s Penelope wearing the dreamiest gingham poolside cover-up. Still from La Piscine (1969).
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Penelope’s fabulously oversized sunglasses. Still from La Piscine (1969).
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Jean-Paul’s combo of an open shirt tucked into blue jeans is giving me lots of Spring/Summer inspo. Still from La Piscine (1969).
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Penelope wearing maybe the shortest dress ever worn to a funeral ever? Stylish though! Still from La Piscine (1969).
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The calm before the storm… Marianne and Jean-Paul enjoying the swimming pool. Still from La Piscine (1969).

Mahogany (1975):

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Mahogany Movie Poster, IMDB.

First things first, the men in this movie are awful. Truly, every single one of them is just unbearable. But with that aside, Mahogany is firm favourite in every fashion lovers’ movie list. The film stars a post-Supremes Diana Ross as fashion student and department store secretary Tracy Chambers. Set in Chicago, the film shows Tracy living in the ‘slums’ of Chicago’s South whilst working at a high-end department store and harbouring dreams of becoming a high fashion designer. Tracy meets and begins dating Brian Walker, an activist fighting against the demolition of housing in primarily black neighbourhoods. Brian, whilst seemingly having a good heart and high ambitions for himself routinely brushes off Tracy’s goals as trivial and devoid of real meaning, insisting fashion is unimportant compared to his work within the neighbourhood. This means that when Tracy meets and befriends the renowned photographer Sean McAvoy who sees her as having real potential as a model, Tracy jumps at the chance to find an in to the industry which means so much to her. After a fight with Brian, Tracy moves to Rome to pursue modelling with Sean, who gives her the stage name Mahogany. A classic movie montage shows Mahogany’s modelling career take off and her charm and charisma capturing both the wider fashion world’s attention as well as Sean’s, who is interested in pursuing her romantically. Sean becomes increasingly possessive and struggles with Tracy’s free-spirited nature and inability to be controlled. Brian visits Tracy in Rome and gets into a fight with Sean involving a gun; Brian leaves Rome alone. At their next fashion shoot in which Tracy is posed inside a sports car, Sean is trying to ‘capture death’ and ends up getting into the car and begins driving erratically. Eventually, with Sean at the wheel, the car crashes leaving Tracy badly injured and Sean dead. In the aftermath of the accident, a wealthy count lets Tracy recover at his villa and sets up a design studio for her there. Instead of feeling fulfilled by finally reaching her dream career, she is left feeling frustrated, lonely, and unhappy despite the huge success of her first official collection. Tracy realises that success means nothing without Brian by her side and she returns to Chicago to be with him.

Despite Tracy’s life being littered with frustrating men who seem desperate to keep her potential hidden away, she does look incredible throughout the film. As a little sidenote, Diana Ross actually designed a lot of Tracy’s outfits as she trained in dressmaking before her career took off! Here are some of her best looks…

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The outfit Tracy designed and wears for the first time she is photographed by Sean McAvoy.
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Tracy looking incredibly chic in Rome whilst her Harper’s Bazaar cover hangs behind her.
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Perhaps one of the most iconic looks from this film. Tracy’s purple ensemble which becomes a billboard advertising Revlon ‘Touch & Glow’.

 

By Rosie Dyer

Bibliography:

https://www.whowhatwear.co.uk/diana-ross-style

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0047199/?ref_=ttfc_fc_tt

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0064816/?ref_=ttmi_tt

https://www.alamy.com/mad-about-men-1954-nicolas-phipps-anne-crawford-donald-sinden-glynis-johns-ralph-thomas-dir-moviestore-collection-ltd-image243659713.html

 

2022: A year of #NoNewClothes

Truthfully, I’m rarely one for New Year’s resolutions and if I ever do commit to making a change, it’ll just so happen to be something which I’m already willing to reduce or eradicate in its entirety. This year, however, I’ve decided to truly revamp my attitude – and wardrobe! – by committing to only buying second-hand clothes.

For the last few years, I have made a concerted effort to buy a maximum of three garments which could be categorised under the term ‘fast-fashion’ a year and thus the goal seems attainable; however, this would invariably creep up to five or so items having fallen for the countless marketing ploys à la Black Friday and during other heavily advertised sale periods.

Fashion
Figure 1: Shields, Jody. ‘View: Everything Old is New again.’ Vogue (US) Apr 01 1989

ON TRENDS

During the first few months of our MA, we have studied how people are drawn to buying clothes, often not out of necessity, but rather due to numerous social factors. Individuals, quite willingly, can be seduced through the socially acceptable (and usually passive act) of following a trend and statements such as ‘because they’re in fashion’ may be offered as a legitimate explanation for adopting any one of more items of clothing. Indeed, the wearer themselves might not even claim to know why they are wearing any one garment beyond this very reason. Such attitudes can create a unique position whereby those who subscribe to blindly following trends also police others to see who is adhering to any specific trend, passing judgement based on what they see. Furthermore, it is largely accepted that clothing forms a large part of the first impression we make on others; indeed, as a cohort, we each expressed the heightened considerations regarding our outfits and additional pressure placed for the first day of our MA, offering as it did for the majority, the first time meeting one another in person.

Such considerations in fashion – at least for me – evoke the much-quoted and adored cerulean blue scene in The Devil Wears Prada where Miranda Priestly (played by Meryl Streep) quite literally gives Andrea (Andy) Sachs (played by Anne Hathaway) a dressing down after she shows her contempt for the fashion world, claiming to be ‘exempt’ from fashion (fig. 2). Priestly’s speech serves to suggest that Andy’s choice of jumper is the prime example of a trend being spotted at fashion shows and then trickling down to high-street retailers. In other words, people are unable to be removed from fashion and thus (sub)consciously make specific choices and associative statements with what they choose to wear. As philosopher Gilles Lipovetsky writes: ‘With fashion, human beings begin observing each other endlessly, appreciating each other’s looks, evaluating nuances of cut, colour, and pattern in dress.’ Moreover, it is this constant observation that has become all the more heightened through social media, and this is especially true of platforms that focus on the dissemination of images.

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Figure 2: Screenshot from ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ (2006). Photo: Screenshot from YouTube

Indeed, my resolution to buy ‘nothing new’ relates to this constant observation, and perhaps unsurprisingly as a student of History of Dress, my desire to stand out and communicate specific messages in what I wear. Therefore, for me, buying vintage and second-hand is about making considered purchases, often over a period of a few months or even a year. It presents a new opportunity to literally trawl through vintage shops in the hopes of finding something incredible with expectations that may crumble upon seeing the fifth moth-ridden jumper in a row but can instantly be restored as soon as I’ve spotted the perfect jacket (fig.3 aka the dream jacket). Buying second-hand and vintage can certainly be a frustrating process, too, such as when an item you’ve been eyeing up is no longer available; or, the gut-wrenching moment when someone outbids you on an eBay listing in that *last* second, coupled with the misplaced confidence in thinking you were the only one who was going to bid on the item.

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Figure 3: 1970s Biba Lamé Jacket. Photo: V&A

Moreover, where possible, I love reaching out to the buyer to see if they can offer any anecdotal information surrounding the garment to construct a complete mental image and history, ‘revealing the wearer’s identity, character or physiognomy,’ as analysed by Kitty Hauser. Without a doubt, one of my favourite vintage purchases included a beautiful hand-written note from its previous owner which outlined how treasured it had been, but also how it ‘will have another chapter in its fashion life’ which I think perfectly sums up the special feeling one might have when buying something second-hand.

Recently, I’ve found that compliments relating to clothes between friends and strangers alike are more increasingly being met with the following explanations: ‘It’s vintage’; ‘I’ve had it for [insert length of time]’; and, ‘I got it from a charity shop for a fiver’. Each of these explanations suggests a new way of justifying past and present purchases as individuals are becoming abundantly aware of the environmental implications of their purchases and want to alleviate guilt or the notion of being ‘part of the problem’. However, it also creates an issue that goes against the very origins of the second-hand clothes market, dating back to the 1700s, which was set up to help people purchase clothes at more affordable prices, something that Barbra Streisand’s Second Hand Rose notes as rendering it less desirable, an attitude which has greatly changed in recent years (fig. 4). Today’s appetite for vintage pieces can see prices skyrocket as specific eras and garments are (re)interpreted as trendy, once again creating the issue of affordability which has long defined – and plagued – the fashion industry.

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Figure 4: Screenshot from Barbra Streisand’s ‘Second Hand Rose’ (1965) for the ‘My Name is Barbra’ TV Special. Photo: Screenshot from YouTube

THE NEED TO ACT

Recent conferences such as COP26 have put pressure on the need to truly change our consumer habits, particularly as statistics show that the fashion industry emits about the same quantity of greenhouse gases a year as the entire economies of France, Germany and the United Kingdom combined. This was reported in a recent McKinsey and Co report which found that the fashion industry alone had emitted a mind-blowing 2.1 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2018.

Moreover, people in the United Kingdom buy more clothes per person than any other country in Europe. In sum, the amount of clothes that many people in the UK own is nothing near a ‘normal’ amount as fewer people buy to last, the expectation that an item of clothing’s lifespan is limited to a mere few months, or a singular outing is a bleak state of affairs indeed. This is partly driven by the fact that 69% of new clothes are produced from synthetic fibres and plastics, set to reach an alarming 75% by 2030.

The statistics are alarming, and our desire to consume fashion leads to some of the worst working conditions, only exacerbated by fast-fashion retailers such as Pretty Little Thing introducing a mind-blowing 100% off during last year’s Black Friday in a bid to get rid of excess stock and drum up publicity and excitement with its consumers (fig. 5).

In order to help track the individual impact of reducing our clothes consumption, initiatives such as the Count Us In ‘Wear Clothes to Last’ pledge work to calculate the estimated reduction in an individual’s carbon pollution throughout the year. At the time of writing, 1,709 people have signed the pledge.

PLT
Figure 5: Screenshot of the @OfficialPLT tweet advertising 100% off discounts. Photo: Screenshot from Twitter

 

Let us now turn our attention now to some of the solutions which have helped reduce my desire to buy new clothes.

HOW TO RESIST THE TEMPTATION

  • Unfollow brands and individuals who promote a fast-fashion lifestyle, especially if they are being sponsored by fast-fashion conglomerates to do so.
  • Tailor your cookies or use ad-blockers to help reduce the number of pop-up adverts you receive.
  • Unsubscribe from unnecessary marketing emails from fast-fashion brands
  • Actively search for sustainable alternatives.

HOW TO SHOP

Buy to last (and take care of your clothes!)

Donate/repurpose/sell unwanted clothes

Second hand, both online and in person

  • Vintage Shops and kilo Sales (details often found on Facebook)
  • Local Charity Shops
  • eBay; Etsy; Depop (@5thSeasonVintage is a personal favourite)
  • Vestiaire Collective; HEWI – premium brands

By making my pledge public, I am hoping to be held accountable by friends and family for any purchases I make throughout the year.

By Georgina Johnston-Watt

Sources:

Hauser, Kitty, 2005, ‘The Fingerprint of the Second Skin,’ in Christopher Breward and Caroline Evans, eds., Fashion and Modernity, pp. 153-170

Lipovetsky, Gilles, 1994, ‘The Enchantment of Appearances,’ in The Empire of Fashion: Dressing Modern Democracy pp. 18-54

http://changingmarkets.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/SyntheticsAnonymous_FinalWeb.pdf

https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O120586/jacket-biba/

https://www.dazeddigital.com/fashion/article/54904/1/pretty-little-thing-fast-fashion-plt-black-friday-sale-free-clothes

https://www.greenpeace.org.uk/news/the-uks-fast-fashion-habit-is-getting-worse-and-its-destroying-the-planet/

https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/retail/our-insights/fashion-on-climate

https://www.proquest.com/magazines/view-everything-old-is-new-again/docview/879279559/se-2?accountid=10277

https://twitter.com/OfficialPLT/status/1465440440409378822?s=20&t=4AJWD-GfG51zDgfKVbhXjw

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CaPmNly54gA&ab_channel=WestHwood

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ja2fgquYTCg&ab_channel=Movieclips

In Conversation with Dr. Rebecca Arnold…

*Due to teething problems with the new editing team, this post will be updated with images ASAP*

Current student Ipek Kozanoglu chats to MA Documenting Fashion’s very own Dr Rebecca Arnold about all things fashion and the @documenting_fashion Instagram account.

The emergence of Instagram eleven years ago has awoken a frenzied desire to share. Whether it’s the photos/videos of daily routines, favourite pastimes, interests or passions, the app has transformed whoever posts on the platform, into a curator.

It is undeniable that Instagram’s visual potency has breathed new life into the exhibition and dissemination of fashion and its imagery. Although a time before Instagram almost seems unimaginable ever since social media became deeply ingrained in our daily lives, exhibiting trends in fashion before was most common through magazines, fashion shows and films. Dr Rebecca Arnold’s @documenting_fashion Instagram account, with its array of photographs, drawings, magazine spreads and film extracts from a variety of periods, starting from the 1920s all the way to today, and cultures, spanning from the US to Europe and Asia, evokes this type of ‘documenting fashion’ before an age of social media. The account’s rich visual content is often accompanied by Dr Arnold’s brief yet captivating captions that not only inform the viewer about the history and meanings behind the images but also draw the viewers attention to details that often slip the gaze of the untrained eye. Presenting a broad view of styles that belong to different ages and cultures, the account becomes an outlet to compare similarities and differences in dress whilst highlighting the fact that many concerns, as well as fascinations in fashion, are universal.

In this interview, Dr Arnold delves deeper into her visual library and responds to questions about the creation and aim of the account, her interest in fashion and how it links to Instagram as well as criticism regarding fashion influencers today.

 

Could you elaborate on how you came up with this account, what was the inspiration and aim behind its creation? What drew you to Instagram as opposed to say other outlets such as Pinterest or Twitter for example?

I was only ever interested in Instagram – because it is image-based but with the potential for a little caption.  Originally, it was for my MA students and I, but I think they had enough to do with their studies and the blog, plus, followers started to recognise my caption writing style and so it gradually evolved to be my own account and the students focused on the blog.

Is there a specific period/era in fashion history that you favour amongst others and find yourself coming back to explore on your account?

One of the things that’s fun on Instagram is that I can jump around a lot – but I do love interwar fashion and mid-century photography so I return to these eras a lot. I also really like early 1970s fashion, especially its illustration, and I like looking at old WWD issues and posting the amazing drawings from there.

Your account features a rich variety of fashions, styles that belong to different cultures from North America, Asia to Europe. Could you elaborate on the elements that you take into consideration before you create a post? Is there a strategy that you tend to follow when you create posts or shape your content, such as geographical or periodical order/patterns?

I don’t prepare posts in advance or think about it too deeply – so it’s very much what I feel like in the moment I’m posting. I have enormous image files, I’m always looking at databases, archives, books, magazines. It’s funny when I look back a few posts and realise I was clearly attracted to a colour, pose, period or region without realising.

That said I think it is essential to reflect diverse peoples, representation matters.

With 7322 posts and counting, @documenting_fashion resembles a time capsule (staying very true to its name), garnering fashion imagery, photographs, magazine spreads, ranging from a variety of periods, starting from the 1910s all the way to the 70s and 80s. What draws you to the fashion imagery of the past? The quality of the material, the process of creation or the ‘lived-through experience, memories garments hold perhaps?

I’m a historian, I love evidence, I love finding something that tells us about the past, that enables us to understand, question, investigate a particular moment. I’ve been drawn to images all my life, and to dress – I love how it’s at once intimate, personal and about memory, but also about many other histories – from attitudes to the body to technology.

Your account has an impressive number of followers (113.000 to be exact) which includes highly esteemed faces from the fashion and art world such as Val Garland and Richard Haines. Did you have a target audience in mind when you first started the account and does this wide reach that the account now has affect the content that you post each day? Do you try to create content that aligns with what they’re looking for?

Not specifically. When the account was set up, it was really about my students and I, and entertaining ourselves. It’s amazing to me that it’s grown so much.  I’ve definitely come to understand Instagram not just as curated images, but as building and more importantly, being a part of a like-minded community. I love the way choice of images and responding to images others choose means you connect with people through shared visual taste, interests etc.  I am thrilled to have connected with and made friends with so many people this way.

I don’t tailor any of my content, I don’t really know how you’d do that, I don’t think that would be very interesting and would be a quick way to go crazy! – I post what interests me – and I respond to other people’s accounts where they also seem to be fascinated by the images they post.

Instagram has become a competitive social media outlet with the surge of ‘influencers’ over the past couple of years. Some influencers are often criticised for being tone-deaf regarding social matters and for glossing over them by posting glamourous photos on every occasion. Does your account, with the variety of mediums it offers from a broad period, also carry the aim of somehow informing/educating people regarding fashion history and issues surrounding it?

As I said above, I think you should post what interests you, but also remember that representation matters – and like everything you do, it should therefore reflect your politics and beliefs.  It’s unacceptable to represent only white people, it’s unacceptable to only think about supporting a particular cause once a year when there’s a special day or whatever.  Representation is an ongoing, political act, for all it is fun and entertaining etc.  So, I suppose what I’m saying is, if you truly believe in inclusivity, for example, it becomes part of everything you do, and not a performance that you have to think about.  I am not consciously aiming to educate, but since I have strong opinions, and have spent the past 25 plus years as a lecturer, education is fundamental to me, even when I’m “just” posting pictures on Instagram.

Another criticism that influencers face nowadays is that they conform to and perpetuate high beauty standards and wear clothes specifically for Instagram, to project a certain image of themselves and please their target audience. Your account has many photographs from magazines that go back to eras such as the 1960s and even all the way back to the 20s. As a dress historian and owner of quite an active Instagram account about fashion imagery, how do you view and respond to this criticism?

The best influencers wear and style themselves in a way that is authentic to them – whether to the way they actually live or their aesthetic aspirations. Those are the influencers I follow and that I’m interested in.  It’s easy to criticise influencers, but they aren’t all the same, and with all the people I follow, I’m responding to something they bring to the imagery – and by extension to the way they wear and style themselves.

Nowadays, it seems like everyone can become a fashion/beauty influencer with the right amount of popularity and number of followers. Do you think this concept existed before the time of social media, with icons such as Twiggy and Brigitte Bardot? If so, has it intensified over time as Instagram rose to prominence?

I actually don’t think anyone can – not as a sustained thing.  It only really works if it connects to you, and if you really are good at styling and projecting yourself in a way that connects to a particular audience.  There have always been women whose sense of style and ability to project themselves through clothes is admired. Now, they are more visible, and a wider range of people can be seen and therefore find their audience.

Aside from the @documenting_fashion account, you also have a podcast called Bande à Part where you discuss all things fashion and its different themes, periods, styles and mediums, with Beatrice Behlen, which airs every Sunday! Could you expand on how Bande à Part came about? Is it an audio companion to your Instagram account where you delve deeper into the fashion sphere?

Bande à part was not conceived of as connected to my Instagram account, it came from my friendship with Beatrice and thinking it would be fun to do something together and that’s what it has continued to be. My main creative and academic outlet has always been writing, so audio is closer to that really.

Finally, following up on your “If I was a fashion photograph/a painting…” game on your podcast and with Halloween approaching, I couldn’t resist asking you if there is a dress that you would like to wear from a museum and what would it be?

I actually don’t like dressing up in costume! But if there are any museums that would like to lend me a Vionnet dress, I’d be thrilled…

Special thanks to Dr Rebecca Arnold for taking time off from her book and responding to the questions for the blog.

Interview by Ipek Birgul Kozanoglu

Julliard’s Gourmet Colours

 

While in New York our class was fortunate enough to visit the archive of the Brooklyn Museum. One of the pieces that we were shown was a whimsical little catalogue of dyed fabrics called Julliard’s Gourmet Colours from autumn 1949. In truth, the word ‘catalogue’ is loosely used to describe what was, in actuality, a treasure trove of beautiful fabric swatches, whacky illustrations and a plethora of food-related puns. These curious little boxes were local to New Jersey, only produced once or twice a year and were made for the benefit of clothing designers and manufacturers who may have been interested in using their fabrics.

The ways in which the accompanying booklets described the look and feel of their textiles was truly a work of poetry; the gastronomical metaphors perfectly embodying the potential haptic visuality of fabrics and clothing. The booklet states: “Gourmet colours have subtlety and unique distinction of a great chef’s masterpiece… for, like a memorable dish, they are skilfully blended by experts and served up in the most attractive and tasteful guise.” With dye names such as ‘cranberry sauce, ‘black mint’ and ‘hot spice’, it becomes easier to see how one might begin to view an outfit as a perfectly crafted meal with high quality ingredients.

They go on further to write that the texture of certain fabrics may be “smooth as a mousse… or crisp as melba toast, or soft as soufflé… or as deliciously light as meringue.” Here, language is used as a means to suggest that there is a desire to devour when looking at something we deem to be aesthetically pleasing. They also write: “these Julliard fabrics have been designed and dyed in Gourmet colours to provide a gracious setting for milady.” In this sense, an interesting comparison can be drawn between the way in which the fabrics are being described and the way in which the gaze operates within society. In describing fabrics using food-related terminology and comparing women’s fashion as a ‘gracious’ table setting, we can see how fashion might be used as a means to be devoured and ingested by the look of others. This quirky and unique fabric catalogue epitomises the tactile and digestive nature of looking in a manner that almost satirises and parodies the devouring potentiality of the gaze.

By Niall Billings

Documenting Fashion on Summer Break

Details from Louise Dahl-Wolfe photographs for Harper’s Bazaar.

The Documenting Fashion Blog will be on hiatus until September for the summer holiday. While you wait in anticipation for our return (and fresh posts from a new group of MAs), take a look at a few books recommended by our recent graduates.

Barbora: Fashion is Spinach by Elizabeth Hawes (Random House, 1938)

I based my second assignment of the year on Elizabeth Hawes, the sadly not well-known American designer and writer, after we saw her archive at the Brooklyn Museum. Hawes was pretty much a dress reformer in the 30s, urging for more ready-to-wear fashions as well as clothing for men that was less restrictive and unhygienic as the multiple layers they were required to wear by society all year round. Fashion Is Spinach is the first book by Hawes in which she takes on the fashion industry in a hilarious manner, questioning its principles, uncovering the way it operates, how copying works (something she herself has done as a young woman) and generally just ridicules the way fashion authorities dictate what is and is not stylish at a certain moment. Her other books are great too, but Fashion Is Spinach combines all the different aspects of the industry and the business. It’s laugh-out-loud funny and definitely the best book I read during the year. Also, I feel more people should know about Elizabeth Hawes and the amazing work she has done, so this recommendation was a no-brainer. Only problem is, it is a bit tricky to find it online. But the search is so worth it in the end!

Read it online here.

Harriet: How LIFE Gets the Story by Stanley Rayfield (Doubleday, 1955)

I audibly gasped and was sternly shushed when I first opened this book one bleak day in the British Library. It documents the truly extraordinary lengths the magazine’s photojournalists went to best capture their subjects – from microscopic beings to Stalin’s successors; even Audrey Hepburn having her hair washed on the set of Sabrina. My favourite image is of Margaret Bouke-White dangling from a helicopter to get a better shot. As you do.

Jamie: Fashion Victims: The Dangers of Dress Past and Present by Alison Matthews David (Bloomsbury, 2015)

I picked up the spine-tingling Fashion Victims for a bit of pleasure reading after the course finished in June. Filled with morbid, and occasionally gruesome, details about dangerous dress, Alison Matthew David’s book brings to light some obvious and not-so-obvious ways that Western fashion of the 19th and 20th centuries led to many untimely deaths. The author’s wonderful balance of detailed scholarship and engaging writing makes this book a truly enjoyable read. While I won’t divulge any of the shocking facts I learned (that’s for you to find out!), I will leave you to ponder a point raised in the introduction of this book: if clothing is supposed to protect the body from outside harm, why is it that it ‘fails spectacularly’ so often in the course of fashion history?

Sophie: Fashion: A Very Short Introduction by Rebecca Arnold (Oxford University Press, 2009)

I feel like I’m stating the obvious and cheekily doing some serious ‘Documenting Fashion’ ad-work here, but this small little book really is a lovely nice overview for anyone wishing to jump into all things related to fashion. If you’re going on holidays it’ll also fit snugly into your hand luggage…lucky you!

Yona: Fashion Since 1900 (2nd edition) by Amy de la Haye and Valerie Mendes (Thames and Hudson, 2010)

This book has been my first point of reference for both my historical fashion designs and my academic work. Even though the book covers an entire century of fashion in rather few pages, it gives a clear overview of fashionable styles and societal influences on fashion as well as interesting details. In addition to mainstream fashion, Fashion Since 1900 also explores subcultural dress and even cosmetics and accessories. Amazingly, this book covers the basics of everything that I have researched during the past years.

Dana: Fashioning London: Clothing and the Modern Metropolis by Christopher Breward (Berg, 2000)

I actually read it before the course started as it was recommended in our reading list, and I love how it goes into detail about the relationships between city life and fashion, which are very explicit in London. It’s an amazing book to learn more about the city’s history and the manner in which particular styles of dress became associated with this leading international city, ultimately challenging the dominance of Paris, Milan and New York. The author constructs an original history of clothing in London its manufacture, promotion and cultural meaning in the city, which was an amazing taster for the course, therefore I encourage everyone interested in the London’s history or living in London to read it.

See you in September!

Documenting Regency Fashion with La Belle Assemblée

Today, 18 July 2017, marks the bicentenary of the death of Jane Austen, author of classic novels such as Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma. Much of her work, and their subsequent adaptations, are set in the Regency era (broadly categorized as 1795-1820) and their fashions reflect that time. Jane herself was quite fond of fashionable dressing: letters from time spent living with her brother Henry in London mention visits to Grafton House for trimmings and hosiery, and to Bedford House for dress fabrics.

Fashion plate from La Belle Assemblée (published by John Bell), 1807. Hand-coloured etching. Los Angeles County Museum of Art: www.lacma.org. Accession number: M.86.266.84.

In order to keep abreast of the latest fashions, women of the Regency era consumed ladies’ magazines, among them the high quality La Belle Assemblée or Bell’s Court and Fashionable Magazine addressed particularly to the Ladies. John Bell first published Le Belle Assemblée in 1806 as a monthly source of prose, poetry, biographies, and fashion advice for leisured women. There is even reason to suspect that Jane Austen would have read La Belle Assemblée as one of her favourite nieces, Fanny Austen Knight, had an 1814 issue of that periodical among her possessions.

‘Bourbon Hat and Mantle’ plate from La Belle Assemblée (published by John Bell), May 1814. Hand-coloured etching. Victoria and Albert Museum. Accession number: E.1025-1959.

La Belle Assemblée’s price established it as a thoroughly affluent periodical. Its rival, the Lady’s Museum, cost 1s. in 1806, while La Belle Assemblée cost 2s. 6d. for black-and-white etchings and 3s. 6d. for hand-coloured illustrations. Though only two fashion plates were included with each issue, they were prepared by highly skilled illustrators, engravers, and painters. The 25cm x 16cm dimensions of this periodical further added to its luxury. Whether coloured or not, the sizable fashion plates are works of art in their own right, as their inclusion in museum collections around the world confirms.

‘Walking Dress’ plate from La Belle Assemblée, September 1822. Hand-coloured etching. Victoria and Albert Museum. Accession number: E.2818-1888.

John Bell’s wife Mrs. Bell was credited with the designs of many outfits seen in the plates of La Belle Assemblée. As a dressmaker in London known for extremely up-to-date fashion knowledge (she had foreign fashions imported for study twice each week), Mrs. Bell possessed a reputation for unbeatable fashion acumen. She was not just a dressmaker and designer however. Mrs. Bell, ever the visionary, invented the ‘Chapeau Bras,’ a foldable hood small enough to store in a bag, and a corset to reduce the appearance of pregnancy.

‘Dinner Party Dress’ plate from La Belle Assemblée (published by Whittaker & Co.), February 1827. Hand-coloured etching. Victoria and Albert Museum. Accession number: E.1972-1888.

Plates from La Belle Assemblée reflect both minute and radical changes in fashion during the first three decades of the nineteenth century. From 1800-1820, differences in fabric, colour, and accessories set old and new fashions apart. The 1820s saw a gradual widening of sleeves and skirts as the decade progressed, morphing the columnar silhouette of the beginning of the century into the exaggerated hourglass shape of the early 1830s. In 1832, La Belle Assemblée merged with the Lady’s Magazine; the new Court Magazine and Belle Assemblée continued to publish the latest advances in fashion throughout the 1830s.

Read, W., ’Full Dress, Ball Dress, Morning Dress’ plate from La Belle Assemblée (published by Whittaker & Co.), October 1830. Hand-coloured etching. Victoria and Albert Museum. Accession number: E.1972-1888.

Further Reading

Jane Ashelford, ‘Perfect Cut and Fit’ in The Art of Dress: Clothes Through History 1500-1914 (London: National Trust, 1996), pp. 167-210

Margaret Beetham, ‘The ‘Fair Sex’ and the Magazine: The Early Ladies’ Journals’ in A Magazine of Her Own? Domesticity and Desire in the Women’s Magazine, 1800-1914 (London: Routledge, 1996), pp. 17-34

Au Revoir MA Documenting Fashion Graduates of 2017!

The MA graduates at a post-graduation celebration on Somerset House’s River Terrace. Courtesy Harriet Nelham-Clark.

Even after all these years, it is still a little surprise when graduation suddenly appears again on my calendar.  My MA course at The Courtauld seems to rush by – nine months of seminars, visits, discussions and so much more. The most exciting aspect for me is always meeting the students as a group for the first time in October, and getting to know them and watching their responses to the images and ideas we discuss.

This year, I had the great pleasure of seeing Jamie, Dana, Barbora, Harriet, Yona and Sophie progress from early essays thinking about key methodologies and theorists, through film reviews, blog posts, formal essays and a virtual exhibition, to their final piece of work – a 10,000 word dissertation on a subject of their choice.  You can look back at the posts they wrote a couple of months ago to learn about the amazing topics they chose, suffice to say, I was reading drafts on everything from 19th century Decadents to 1930s bathing suits – and enjoying guiding the students as their ideas developed and their writing became ever more fluent and sophisticated. They all worked incredibly hard, were great fun to teach and graduated with excellent grades.

So, please join me in congratulating these brilliant, talented graduates, and wishing them luck for their future, no doubt wonderful careers!

MAs in academic dress, along with History of Dress Ph. D. graduate Lucy Moyse. Courtesy Harriet Nelham-Clark.
A toast to a wonderful year! Courtesy Barbora Kozusnikova.

‘A Charming Consideration’: Edwardian Lingerie Dresses

The woman preparing food for this boat picnic wears a sheer lingerie dress, c. 1910. Courtesy SSPL/Science & Society Picture Library/Getty Images.

When the heat of June rolls in and spring layers give way to bright, flowing dresses, I cannot help but be reminded of the quintessential summer garment, and perhaps my favorite historical fashion trend, the Edwardian lingerie dress. Its name derived from the undergarment-like materials with which the dress was made: sheer cotton or linen inset with lace, all bleached vivid white, with a white or pastel silk slip underneath. Primarily worn from the early 1900s until 1914, these delicate gowns embodied docile and leisured Edwardian femininity.

Women’s Dress, 1908. Cotton organdy with machine-made Valenciennes lace and trim. Made in the United States. Philadelphia Museum of Art (accession number: 1966-163-2).

Despite its salacious name, the lingerie dress was a staple of a respectable woman’s wardrobe. The 1905 Marion Harland’s Complete Etiquette, for example, suggested that women have a ‘white lingerie dress’ for luncheon or afternoon tea. It could also be worn as a wedding dress or a casual evening gown during the summer. Since it was appropriate attire for multiple occasions, the lingerie dress is commonly identified as a tea gown, an afternoon dress, a summer dress, or (when made with plain weave cotton or linen) a lawn dress. The lingerie dress eschewed the loose, comfortable fit of the late-nineteenth century tea gown, its predecessor, in favor of the fashionable silhouette. An American lingerie dress from the 1908, pictured above, demonstrates the silhouette of the first decade of the twentieth century, the thrust-forward bust and curved back indicative of the s-bend, or swan bill, corset. Later lingerie dresses exhibit the straight line introduced in Poiret’s Directoire revival gowns.

Actress Carol McComas in a lace gown, 1905. Courtesy London Stereoscopic Company/Getty Images.

Lingerie dresses were available at many price points, with some simple styles ready-made and more ornate designs offered by top couturiers. Doucet and Redfern, for instance, produced lavishly embellished gowns of hand-made lace and extensive embroidery. Such dresses were suitable for trips to the races and other society functions. White lingerie dresses, at least at first, represented the unhurried, tidy lifestyle of upper class women. Their delicate embellishments necessitated careful cleaning, an especially arduous task for white gowns which had to be washed at extremely high temperatures and repeatedly bleached. As its popularity increased, less elaborate gowns with machine-made lace were produced. These dresses, theoretically, could be machine washed; thus, women of the lower-middle class could wear lingerie dresses similar to those worn by society women without the laborious washing process of more delicate gowns. This proliferation of the lingerie dress across socio-economic boundaries indicates a society-wide aspiration to toward a pure, tranquil femininity of upper class leisure.

Suffragettes in ‘Votes for Women’ sashes and all white ensembles, c. 1910. Courtesy Hulton Archive/Getty Images.

The symbolism of the white lingerie dress was later co-opted by British suffragettes as they campaigned for women’s rights. Throughout the nineteenth century the women’s suffrage movement allied closely with dress reform, both aimed at increasing female liberation. Trouser-like garments such as the bifurcated skirt doomed those attempts to notoriety, since the adoption of masculine clothing was viewed as a challenge to patriarchal power. The suffragette uniform of white shirtwaists and tailor-made skirts capitalized on the reputation of the white lingerie dress. As Kimberly Wahl describes, white not only acknowledged accepted fashion, but also, ‘offered itself as a purified and visible marker of difference, conforming to gender binaries of the period, and was thus reassuringly feminine.’ Women’s liberation groups, then, manipulated the white lingerie dress, a symbol of traditional Edwardian femininity, to advance their cause. Though primarily a representation of traditional gender roles, the lingerie dress established sartorial conventions for the suffragettes and helped democratize dress across social boundaries.

Sources

Clare Rose, Art Nouveau Fashion (London: V&A Publishing, 2014)

Daniel James Cole and Nancy Deihl, ‘The 1900s,’ in The History of Modern Fashion (London: Laurence King Publishing, 2015), pp. 77-98

Kimberly Wahl, ‘Purity and Parity: The White Dress of the Suffrage Movement in Early Twentieth Century Britain,’ in Jonathan Faiers, Mary Westerman Bulgarella, ed., Colors in Fashion (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016), pp. 21-33

Marion Harland and Virginia van de Water, Marion Harland’s Complete Etiquette (Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1905)