In this new column for Worn Through, Interns Jaclyn and Michelle will explore the new and emerging field of digital resources and their potential for primary research in fashion. The first resource we would like to feature is the British Pathé Online Archive.
With origins in Paris in the late nineteenth century, where founder Charles Pathé pioneered early developments in film, Pathé Studios was established in London in 1902. By the end of the First World War, they were producing both newsreels and cinemagazines shown in cinemas – including Eve’s Film Review (1921-1933), a weekly film series for women, and the Pathetone Weekly (1930-1941), dedicated to featuring ‘the novel, the amusing and the strange.’ Pathé Studios stopped producing their cinema newsreels in 1970, leaving behind an archive of 3,500 hours of filmed history.
Over 90,000 video clips are available to preview through their website or Youtube channel, with a sub-channel devoted entirely to Vintage Fashions. The website is searchable by keyword and date, along with more advanced search options including group, category, sound, color and whether the film is licensable. By creating a free account, users can add clips to a favorites list or create separate ‘workspaces’ if researching several topics at once. You can also follow the workspaces of other users whose research interests match your own.
Although British Pathé likes to celebrate and promote its footage depicting major historical events or celebrities, some of the most interesting clips are of everyday people. Often featuring anonymous subjects, these short newsreels can provide insight into the clothing choices of average people at a given moment in time. Based on my own research interests in early 20th century sportswear, I did a quick search using the terms ‘women’ and ‘sport’ between 1920 and 1940. The resulting list revealed clips of both celebrities such as tennis stars Suzanne Lenglen and Helen Wills, as well as anonymous everyday women running cross country, playing cricket and rowing, among others. Although many of the clips were of British women, my search also returned results from France, Italy, Sweden and Canada.
I found the best strategy was to use British Pathé’s website to conduct an initial search for films using keywords and dates, taking note of the titles of films I was interested in to then search for on YouTube. The quality of the YouTube videos seems to be a bit higher and they have no watermarks, making it easier to take screenshots or embed them into a presentation or website. Narrowing my search to women playing tennis, I was able to find several excellent clips with both close-up and action shots of women in the popular white tennis dresses of the 1920s and 1930s.
Using video footage as a source for fashion research projects can provide a much-needed link between surviving objects, visual records and written descriptions. Films can allow us to observe how a historical garment looked and moved on a body or how its wearer would have chosen to style it, bringing life and motion to a dress laying flat in an archive or an idealized and static fashion plate.
Off-white silk tennis dress, unattributed (likely Jean Patou), c. 1924-1928. Fashion Museum, Bath (author’s own photograph, left). Lucien Lelong, ‘Good Shot’ fashion illustration, c. 1926-1928. Palais Galliera, Paris (right).
Many of the readings on fashion and film seem to focus on the analysis of costumes in feature-length films, as opposed to newsreels, clips or amateur filmmaking. I welcome any suggestions for additions to this list in the comments below.
Jobling, Paul. ‘Border Crossings: Fashion in Film/Fashion and Film.’ The Handbook of Fashion Studies. Bloomsbury, 2014. 164-180.
‘Screen Search Fashion.’ Screen Archives South East. http://about.brighton.ac.uk/screenarchive/fashion/index.html.
Warner, Helen. ‘Tracing Patterns: Critical Approaches to On-Screen Fashion.’ Film, Fashion & Consumption, 1(1), 121-132.
Image Credits: http://www.britishpathe.com (for screenshots of website), http://www.culturebox.francetvinfo.fr (for Lucien Lelong illustration)