It is what they wear on their heads that receives the viewer, elaborately embroidered caps that bring to mind the 17th and 18th centuries, though they are a Danish style from the nineteenth. The shape of these caps will inevitably retain associations with childhood bonnets, demure femininity and hair-covering (to protect as well as to hide). For those not familiar with traditional Danish clothing, the photographs may conjure Vermeer’s young women and other famous Dutch portraits.
Trine Søndergaard’s new book, Stasis, is a compilation of three of her photographic series, Strude, Guldnakke, and Interiors. Sparse hallways and luminously grey windows of abandoned Danish mansions are interspersed with her portraits of young women in traditional Danish headwear and clothing. The two portrait series seem as though they could have been done simultaneously, with similar poses and composition, and they are both inquiries into the meanings of national and personal identity. But they have individual power that is only reinforced in a collection like this. It seems possible that the bonneted women could walk those halls, throw open those windows.
Immediate and still, the portraits require your attention despite the negative body language. I was so drawn to the intricate embroidery and construction of the caps in Guldnakke that I didn’t notice the young women’s clothing until the cultural and temporal contrasts made one jump out: in Guldnakke #9, a thick silver embroidered crown accented with white lace and bound with thick black ribbon of an intricate jacquard rose pattern is paired with a white lace top with black gothic lettering, underlined by a black spaghetti-strap tank and visible white bra straps.
“Guldnakke #9″ from the “Goldnakke” series by Trine Søndergaard. Image copyright Trine Søndergaard.
I paged back through and realized I had missed a faded t-shirt with an American flag motif, chain-store “jersey” t-shirts. The intention and intricacy of the headpieces, and possibly the repetitive-seeming nature of the poses, had encouraged me to flip through, noting the differences between each photograph but not those contained therein.
Originally, bonnets such as these were “traditional piece[s] of headwear for well-to-do women in the mid-nineteenth-century Danish countryside. This tradition has a fine touch to it, as the golden fabrics from which most of the caps were made were until then the privilege of royalty and nobility.” (12) Are these historic pieces, reconstructions? Does it matter?
“Bonnet” from Zealand, Denmark, late nineteenth century. From the collections at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.
As Mieke Bal notes in her accompanying text, “Different from the bonnets in the Strude series, which were characterized by a functional conception (protecting the women from the elements), those appear in the Guldnakke series share an ambition: they signify the ostentation of wealth.” (12) How does their pairing with modern, mass-market clothing coax meaning from the portraits, affect the choice to use each specific bonnet?
The portraits are faceless and nameless, although not uninviting; the wearers are all turned away from us but seem as though they could turn to face us at any moment. But they will not, and the bonnets, then, become the subjects, obscuring almost all natural identifying characteristics with their flat, teardrop faces. The women are “scaffolding for [the artist's] investigation.” Disregarding any socio-emotional reasons for posing the women this way, seeing the back of a garment or hat in art is special, although perhaps less so today. Bal compares Søndergaard’s work with that of Vilhelm Hammershøi, who was also interested in representing the back.
“Interior With Young Woman From Behind,” Vilhelm Hammershøi, 1904. From the Randers Museum of Art, Denmark.
Interspersed within the portraits, as well as between them, are the Interior shots. These are spaces, entrances and exitways, transitory but not in motion; a photograph from this series graces the cover [at top]. Bal ties the three together: ”Both of her series of women wearing elaborate headresses–Strude and Guldnakke–and the series Interior, taken inside empty, abandoned buildings, refuse the exchange of gazes.” (8)
“Strude #13″ from the series “Strude” by Trine Søndergaard, published in the book, “Stasis” by Hatje Cantz. Photograph copyright Trine Søndergaard.
In Strude, women are wrapped in fabric covering the hair and face instead of a structured and pleated cap. We may see faces in this series, although many are covered. There is a whiff of protest fashion in the visuals, with eyes the only visible feature on a darkly wrapped head, a two-piece balaclava. These scarves and face coverings are direct descendants of Danish folk dress from the island of Fanø. In archival photographs, the women never seem to be without one scarf wrapped around the neck and another tied securely around the head, covering her hair. Søndergaard travelled to this small island off the west coast of Denmark to shoot Strude, although with the exception of the photo quality, the portraits do not betray a specific time or place. As part of a folk dress tradition, the head wraps are both very dated and “old fashioned” as well as being somewhat timeless, or at least suspended in time; they will never be fashionable, so they never will go out of style.
Fischers Trine (Anne Catherine Hansen) at home on Fanø, 1920s or 1930s (?). Photo: Hans Pors. From Aldus.dk.
Girls in traditional dress, Fanø, c. 1911. From mitfanoe.dk.
A strude, strictly defined, is a face covering. Composed of one over- and one under-piece with holes cut for the eyes, this garment protected the wearer from strong wind and sun while working in the countryside:
A Danish woman in a “strude,” a face covering to protect from wind and sun. Illustration: C.F. Lund, from Illustreret Tidende 1860.
Søndegaard suggests that this series was inspired not only by an interest in an extant strude in a museum on Fanø, but also by a critical debate in Denmark at the time surrounding the wearing of veils by Muslim residents. What is provocative about covering a woman’s face and hair, and who may choose to do so?
“Strude 11″ from the “Strude” series by Trine Søndergaard. Photograph copyright Trine Søndergaard.
Although they are portraits in the sense that both Strude and Guldnakke are series of women’s necks, heads, and occasionally faces, these are unnamed personages. Folk dress is so tied to local identity (as well as national pride) that it has become iconic, and is rarely truly personalized in recreations today. The wearer becomes a vehicle for tradition, especially as very few (if any) wear these outfits other than on holidays. ”Søndergaard deploys the medium of portraiture to make images of faces in which individuality is overshadowed by similarity. … Danish faces are hidden, turning away, or otherwise obscured.” (7)
She has chosen similar posing in earlier series, including Monochrome , but the use of specific clothing in the series collected in Stasis adds another layer to the similarities and obscuration.
From the series “Monochrome Portraits” by Trine Søndergaard. Photograph copyright Trine Søndergaard.
Published by German firm Hatje Cantz, the aesthetics of the book are as serene as the photographs, with large white spaces and a greyscale color scheme.
Layout of the book “Stasis” by Trine Søndergaard, published by Hatje Cantz.
The photographs are printed in large format, featured on the right-hand page while facing a blank, white page. These many pages are bound on the right-hand side of the cover, which opens flat as a self-contained for viewing the works.
View of the book “Stasis” by Trine Søndergaard, published by Hatje Cantz.
There is an accompanying text mounted on the left. Its physical remove from the photographs themselves allow the reader to consult it–or not, read the academic critical essays first or last, focus on the artistic works or flip back and forth. I found that the side-by-side placement has another great function: one can open to the photograph referenced and keep the text open as well. Works best when the text is on the left.
I really liked Bal’s challenge to those seeking meaning in painting and portraiture, or a “why?”. Here she writes of Vermeer’s The Girl With the Pearl Earring :
Why would she have a pearl earring became a key question [sic]. The answer? She had to be a servant girl with whom the master is enamored, and so on. Let the romance begin. This romantic thinking endeavors to overwrite the one impossible explanation: that she, a simple girl, just possesses a pearl earring. (8)
Mostly because it questioned my own reading of the work, my desire to understand why these women were wrapped with calico and lace, why these traditional garments were being recreated or mimicked, and subsequently photographed. There must be a reason; these photographs are heavy with intention! The framing of the head, the repetition, the juxtaposition: I dutifully did the costume history research to figure it out. And this is probably how I prefer to interact with art, pleased with my knowingness and totally subscribing to the traditional hierarchies of knowledge, but I hardly think it’s the best way. How important it is it to be an informed audience? What will these photographs communicate without a previous familiarity with Danish folk dress?
Bal wonders, “[w]hat kind of discourse is this? Uninvited, I am detailing, and worse, judging, by calling the face beautiful, the face of another person who refrains from engaging in eye contact with me.” But as “[w]rong-headed as it was, the outcome of my compulsion to judge was neither wrong nor arbitrary. The image pushed me to do it.” (11) I too felt the need to give my own analysis and experience of viewing the photographs here, drawn to use the works as documentation of material culture. What is it about her work that encourages these responses?
Bal’s essay goes so enthusiastically into art theoretical readings of the collected works that I felt it began to disconnect me from the photographs themselves. When is a ribbon just a ribbon, and when is it a commentary on balance and color theory? From thoughtful challenges and self-criticism she jumps into long, sometimes “wrong” descriptions of the clothing (as much as one can call another’s observation wrong): in an overwrought paragraph about intersecting lines and abstraction of colors, Bal suggests that the stripes of a printed jersey top are not printed but instead “bands of braided fabric” (I maintain that they are printed; bygones). This may be some conceptual, irrealistic observation of the fabric that I didn’t pick up on, similar to her allusive description of the same girl’s earring as a “perhaps blue, perhaps green pearl,” referencing her commentary on Vermeer earlier in the essay. The book benefits greatly from Bal’s essay, but some intermediary information might have been nice for newcomers like me. I imagine it was a very intentional choice on the part of the editors and publisher not to include descriptions and information from the artist; I admire the format and the primacy of the image. In any case, it’s plenty easy to look up interviews with the author, read her own artist’s statement on her website.
What does Stasis contribute to the discussion around the use and relevancy of historic dress and its role in identity production? With my background interest in Scandinavian folk dress, I was immediately drawn to the objects depicted, and the posing, the light, etc all came afterward. That Søndergaard named each series and each photograph with the name of the dress object is significant. With the exception of fashion photographs (which is hardly always about the garments), clothing can be incidental in art photography; here it nearly obfuscates the wearers. Stasis would be an excellent jumping-off point for a review of clothing used in art photography; there are dozens of books on fashion photography, and a range of books on fashion and art (is it?), but not enough that examine the use of dress as a function of art. (Leave tips about your favorite works on the subject in the comments section!)
Trine Søndergaard’s use of headwear from Danish folk dress and clothing history has produced simply beautiful, still photographs, with deep currents underneath. The thoughtful fashion historian will regard this work as a chance to challenge and revisit the fabrics and composition of our dress and textile histories, how certain garments or styles evolve over time–or not–and what their changing use means to us socially. Their meanings are never static–even if they can feel staid or stuffy. Portraits will always reflect the time in which the are produced, although they may express ideas and ideals instead of an “accurate” mirror image of popular style. This may include nineteenth-century painters dressing models in classical clothing to encourage a “timeless” and unbound reading of their genius, teenagers in the faddiest formal fashions for a prom photo, or using very specifically dated dress objects from a country’s history to examine our relationships with nationality, identity, and the self.
Lead Photo Credit: Cover of Stasis, by Trine Søndergaard. Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz, 2014.
Find more Book Reviews on Worn Through here!
Watch a video interview with Søndergaard on the Louisiana Channel here. [English subtitles]
Andersen, Ellen. Folkedragter i Danmark. Copenhagen, 1952.
Bright, Susan, ed. Face of Fashion. London: National Portrait Gallery, 2007.
Brilliant, Richard. Portraiture. London: Reaktion, 1991.
Ditner, Judy, ed. Dress Codes: The Third ICP Triennial of Photo and Video.
Guggenheim Museum Soho. Art/Fashion. New York: 1996.
Kunstmuseum Wolfsberg. Art and Textile: Fabric as Material and Concept in Modern Art from Klimt to the Present. Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz, 2014.
Since I was able to afford to buy my own clothes, I have been a committed fan of charity shops, or chazza shops as they are also known here in the UK. It was not just because they were cheap, and it felt like the best thing to have bought several outfits for twenty pounds. It was also, and continues to be, a complete thrill to find garments that came with an incomplete story, where I could then attempt to fill in the gaps like identifying particular labels, certain cuts or different fabrics. I have always been fascinated by the way in which charity shops try so hard to exorcise donations of their previous owners and yet it is this connection with the past that makes them such highly prized items of consumption. I was over the moon when Second-hand Cultures by Nicky Gregson and Louise Crewe was published in 2003 because here was a text that was putting my sense of joy and intellectual curiosity about charity shops into a valid academic context.
Yet, more than being able to piece together a puzzle, I could also add to their sartorial tales. Even now, I can locate a piece of clothing by where I bought it and what I was doing at the time so, in this way, my wardrobe is a museum of me. I can continually experience my own social, cultural and economic history through what I wear. My clothes tell the story of not just British charity shops but also of places such as Montreal’s Value Villages, Berlin’s Humana department store or the huge Salvation Army warehouse on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.
Humana store, Berlin
I grew up in the throes of charity shop expansion across Britain, where we now have around 5,000 across the country representing a myriad of charitable organisations. Having set up the first charity shop in 1949 and with the lion’s share of shops, ‘Oxfam’ became a firm colloquial expression for any charity shop one might visit or donate to on a British high street. By the 1980s, these unique institutions were busy professionalising their interiors with co-ordinated fixtures and staff training for volunteers. However, this could be seen as slightly ironic, given that charity shops are not legally ‘shops’ but rather sites for the exchange of gifts, which means they benefit from large tax exemptions, unlike ordinary retailers.
A typical Oxfam shop in Britain
Since the 2000s, charity shops have been criticised for their role in a very profitable but under scrutinised global economy of textile redistribution, where charities deal in overseas markets via private brokers. A great book that explains this complex relationship between your local charity shop and a distant market in an African country is Karen Tranberg Hansen’s Saluala: The World of Secondhand Clothing and Zambia, which I recommend for anyone interested in this subject.
Salaula – secondhand market in Zambia
Interestingly, knowing this has not yet stopped me from visiting charity shops. In fact, this only makes me more enthusiastic to engage with these places, perhaps because shopping there does go some way to reducing what is brokered elsewhere. Most charity shops can only sell 20 percent of donations given, which means they are under incredible pressure to redistribute waste within an already small second-hand cycle of goods. This is why I particularly like TRAID (Textile Recycling for Aid and International Development), a small group of charity shops based only in London and Brighton. Their aim is to be a shop for, not of, textile recycling, where clothes on sale are often reworked donations by employed designers using donations. What is exciting about TRAID as a charity shop experience is that they have sales where everything is two pounds, something that is very uncommon across nearly all other charity shops but arguably helps to reduce the quantity of unsaleable stock.
TRAID, recently opened in East London
Recently, another layer to these secondhand stories was made when I found myself in a local charity shop face to face with an old student who had recently taken on the role of assistant manager. My arms full of threaded possibilities, we discussed how the shop had streamlined its layout, with clothing arranged by colour, not just size or type.
In my experience, these peculiar retailers have always oscillated between the jumble sale and the department store as retail models of spatial organisation. This is because their design arguably evokes ideas and values held about the notion of charity. A charity shop presents a complex location where ethical imperatives bash against monetary gains. Not just a site of interaction between customer and retailer, the charity shop often involves three parties: the volunteers who make hands on decisions about what to sell and not to sell, the potential customer who will bring in funds and finally, but perhaps most importantly, the donors whom have certain expectations about what happens to their ‘gifts’.
Co-ordinated display of clothes
Donors can prefer to observe charity shops as places with little organisation, similar in form to a jumble sale, because it suggests that their philanthropic input is much needed. However, from a consumer perspective, a department store layout is more conducive to someone who may have little desire to shop there or is unsure of what to look for. It is often the aim of the charitable organisation to appear just as professional as for-profit retailers on the same high street, both as a way to remain competitive and to prove their worth to the customer. It is not unusual to find a customer asking for a discount in a charity shop, as happened while I was chatting to my old student. The move away from the jumble look is also a move away from haggling and discounts, all of which is possible when the goods on sale are essentially gifts.
The jumble sale approach
Yet, there is another consumer, who prefers the messier approach as it provides he/she with the opportunity to ‘find’ something of value, rather than being told what it is through various visual arrangements. These are often the more middle-class sort, who see themselves as amateur connoisseurs and deplore those who try to take that away from them. Admittedly, as the conversation came to an end between myself and my student about the new changes to the shop, it was clear I had become that middle-class sort. While I was bemoaning what I saw as negative change, my student was praising it as positive innovation. My student, in her new role as manager, saw the visual opportunities associated with the re-organisation whereas I felt slightly cheated out of personal opportunities to ‘discover’ valuable goods!
On final reflection, I think charity shops are intriguing places, where all sorts of expectations and assumptions are thrown up in the air. Part of the wonder is their attempt to catch and put these down into some kind of order. I would really like to explore this topic further, especially with the idea of charity shop as cultural metaphor or how they can act as spaces for memory making. If anyone is already doing this, or has any related thoughts about their experience of charity shops, please do get in touch.
Schiaparelli observing her own brand’s fur coat and a Lanvin hat.
We are certainly enjoying a Schiaparelli moment: following the revival of the couture house by Diego della Valle seconded by Farida Khelfa and Marco Zanini and the Prada/Schiaparelli exhibition held at the MET in 2012, the auction house, Christie’s has organised an exceptional sale of her personal collection in Paris, on the 23rd January 2014.
Marisa Berenson, the granddaughter of the iconic 1930s fashion designer decided to let go of about 180 pieces illustrating the personal taste of Elsa Schiaparelli – an eccentric time capsule made of art pieces, furniture, sketches, clothing and accessories.
Jules Chéret – Folies Bergères, la Loie Fuller, 1893.
No need to play with suspense, the auction was a real success. The pre-sale estimate was doubled and reached a total of 1.686.250 €. In the sale’s top ten appear such pieces as a pair of carved marble leopards, an Alberto Giacometti lamp, Aubusson tapestries along photographies of the designer by Man Ray and Horst P. Horst. But fashion was not left aside as a Balenciaga plaid as well as an ensemble of Schiaparelli patterns reached elevated prices.
An ensemble of 1950s patterns.
It is not the first time Christie’s delivers important fashion auctions (past memorable examples include Anna Piaggi or Vivienne Westwood’s personal collections) but it is the first time it takes place in Paris and no better time nor place could have been chosen at the peak of the haute couture season.
All that made the Italian fashion designer unique could be observed during the collection’s exhibition: her love for fantasy and surrealism – an art movement she deeply collaborated with, the close relationship between art and fashion – an association the auction house has ingenuously accounted with its presentation mingling fashion pieces and art objects, her strong taste for oriental aesthetics and the legendary shocking pink.
Probably Schiaparelli, Black Mink Hood, End of 1930s.
How interesting to inspect the inventive environment La Schiap lived in and what she loved to wear. Fashion wise, she definitely had a thing for furs (on the 49 fashion related lots, 12 are fur pieces), she also privileged oriental wear inspired by her Tunisian home and I can definitely imagine her lounging around in those vivid and precious tunics and dresses and finally, when it comes to the garments she would select from her personal brand, embroidered tops seemed to be favoured. How exciting to observe for real the ‘Astrologie’ collection with its key piece: a violet silk blouse embroidered by Lesage and the impressive 1940 beaded rodeo waistcoat that Karl Lagerfeld would have probably loved to have in his Paris/Dallas show. I also fell deeply in love with an embroidered shocking pink bolero: a feminine and sensual matador.
Schiaparelli – Pink Wool, 1940.
As for the furniture and various objects that adorned her interior, there was definitely something of a Renaissance ‘cabinet de curiosités’ as Elsa Schiaparelli seemed to mix and match such a diverse selection of styles and influences: Art Deco met Baroque while French Second Empire blended with Louis XVI Chinoiseries…All these objects illustrate the eclectic almost bohemian-like setting the designer had created for herself. It is hard not to think that only such an avant-garde and creative personality could assume mixing so many different genres – the sign of the surrealist movement she felt connected to.
Wedding Kaftan (1930) against an Aubusson Tapestry.
The auction also highlighted her artistic friendships with objects imagined by the sculptor Alberto Giacometti, the illustrators Christian Bérard and Marcel Vertès or the photographer Man Ray: a fascinating fragment of 1930s modernist art.
Marcel Vertès – Schocking, 1946.
In the whole, along the obvious financial logic behind the auction (I must admit I’m always a little disturb by the fact that trustees sell off objects from their ancestors like this), it was also a formidable situation for us curious historians to take a closer look at the intimate life of a famed fashion designer. Although we may have read numerous books or visited exhibitions that explained her work, we definitely got to know Elsa Schiaparelli better through her intimate collection that not only highlighted her inspirational taste but also brought us on a journey through her times’ contemporary art scene.
I do hope, as it happens in London and New York, this will make Parisian auction houses organise further major couture and fashion sales as we clearly miss them here!
You can browse the auction’s catalogue on Christie’s website.
Take a look at Heather Vaughan’s post about the designer.
Rediscover the MET’s exhibition uniting Miuccia Prada and Elsa Schiaparelli
Read her autobiography: Schiaparelli, Elsa. Shocking Life. London: Victoria & Albert Museum, 2007.
Discover Showstudio’s Conversation between Hubert de Givenchy and Marisa Berenson.
UPDATE: we’ve received enough correct entries for three winners. Thank you very much!
The correct answers were:
1. 1991 (I’d also accept 1977)
3. riot grrrl
4. Manic Panic
5. appearance labor and the authors I have been referencing are Peluchette, Karl, Rust 2006 (that wasn’t required but I’ll give them a shout-out)
As mentioned in another post as well as in a recent cross-posted interview my book Punk Style has recently come out globally. I’m super excited about this and want to share the book with readers. So, my publisher Bloomsbury has generously agreed to provide some copies for a giveaway on Worn Through!
I’ve decided to come up with a handful of trivia questions and the first three individuals to email me the correct answers to all 5 questions wins a copy of the book. US/UK/Europe replies only please (for book shipping purposes). Please include your shipping address in your email in case you are a winner.
1. What year is sometimes referred to as “the year punk broke”? There are two possible answers and I’ll accept either.
2. Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood produced a huge number of what garment that said Vive Le Rock! to sell to Teddy Boys for a large event at Wembley Stadium; however they barely sold any. This huge overstock laid the path for their ideas about distressed clothes, as McLaren and Westwood had to do something with all that material. They cut, ripped, and painted on them helping create the British punk look.
3. Babydoll dresses, barrettes, combat boots and vintage eyeglasses were aesthetic details of what movement related to punk that featured feminist bands and used zines and conventions to communicate ideas
4. Name the New York based store that first showcased punk apparel and then grew into a wide spread hair dye and cosmetics brand?
5. This academic concept is discussed in the book Punk Style and other related research I have participated in on punk. It is described as a “certain amount of physical and mental effort on the part of the attire wearer, a certain amount of dissonance between what individuals believe that they are expected to wear and what they would prefer to wear.” Name it.
Looking forward to your replies!
This post was originally from July 2013.
This past Sunday, the New York Times Magazine featured photographs of objects left behind by South American immigrants crossing the border into America. Jason De Léon directs the “Undocumented Migration Project,” which collects, catalogues, photographs, and exhibits these “things they carried” and oral histories as witness to the experience, which De Léon describes as violent and traumatizing, comparing it to the forced migration of Africans earlier in the history of the United States.
The photographs featured in the Times are a mix of those taken by collaborator Richard Barnes in situ, and of objects exhibited out of context, en masse at the University of Michigan (where De Léon is an Assistant Professor in Anthropology). Combining video, photographs, and found objects, “The State of Exception” was the first exhibition of the UMP’s years of work. Whether in the “wild” or arranged in a blank museum space, the massive accumulation of objects (clothing, backpacks, shoes) highlights the personal, human side of this experience and obviates the scale of northern migration.
This method may not be moving to all, as this anthropological study uses material culture to expose and explore a very controversial topic. But a well-worn axiom of our field is that clothing is common to the human experience, and children’s dirty, abandoned backpacks featuring Dora the Explorer and other cartoon characters tug at the heartstrings. De Léon notes that within a day’s walk of the border, he finds mostly water bottles and other objects we generally think of as disposable, impersonal. Would exhibited photographs of those be as moving? Or might they look like a bunch of trash (perhaps further stigmatizing those left them)? What is different about clothes, shoes, backpacks? Where do Bibles and pictures of one’s family fall on this scale?
Although a comparison of the two experiences is inappropriate, these photographs reminded me of the documentation of victims in the Holocaust Museum. The infamous pile of shoes, ironically, serves not to put a face to the vast, unimaginable suffering, but rather to show how anonymous people can become.
- Photograph by Richard Barnes, part of the exhibition “State of Exception,” published in the New York Times Magazine July 21, 2013.
What is it about a pile? De Léon encounters piles of all kinds of things when he began his anthropological study, and in interviews often mentions the “worn-out shoes” he finds–especially the tiny ones. As an anthropologist, De Léon sees his job as making these anonymous objects personal, in order to understand the migrating people individually, as a group, and also to expose some realities of the experience to those who may see the immigration issue abstractly. The Smithsonian plans to accession these objects collected by the UMP in the summer of 2014.
What do piles or masses of objects communicate to the visitor in a museum setting? Are real, tangible (but untouchable) objects in a museum building more moving than photographs of the objects where they were found? Or vice versa? Is this a manipulative practice, or a realistic one? Have you seen this exhibition, or have you been to other exhibitions using large volumes of material culture that have stuck with you (for better or worse)?
Please leave your comments below!
Photo Credit: Richard Barnes for the NYT, 2013.
My book Punk Style was recently released and I’ve been having some email chats to dive into the book’s themes. Below is one I had with Heather Vaughan, who was Worn Through‘s very first contributor besides myself!
H: How do you define Punk style? What do you think are the key elements of Punk fashion?
M: Punk remains an esoteric and amorphous concept. So it is difficult to define and to categorize its components as punk or not punk. In Punk Style, I deliberately allowed interviewees and all sources to self-identify as punk, rather than coming into the project with preconceived parameters.
In the beginning, punk-styled apparel was self-made or pieced together through bricolage. It was available for purchase only through specific channels, like small boutiques and fetish retailers, ads in fanzines, or punk events. From its 1970s origins through its various present-day incarnations, punk is commonly rooted in those who are in some way disenfranchised from society. Self-identified punks may be critical of mainstream art, politics, popular culture, consumerism, lifestyles, or sexual and social mores. Punk dress was rooted in a desire to be ironic and anti-hegemonic; it reinvented mainstream styles to critique society via bricolage and appropriation.
Many elements of punk dress, such as combat boots, studded belts, and vibrantly dyed hair, have become iconic and stable in popular culture, yet symbolism and meanings have changed throughout time. Not all of those who self-identify as punk share the same perspective on sub cultural dress.
The stereotypical image is of a sneering youth wearing something akin to a leather motorcycle jacket, tattered black band logo T-shirt skinny-fitting bondage pants or ripped jeans, combat boots, studded or safety pin metal accessories, and vibrant body modifications such as heavy cosmetics and/or a colored Mohawk. These signifiers are rooted in fashion designs, sub cultural trends, and popular street styles that have been incorporated into punk dress since the 1970s. However, they may not tell a complete story of punk style. It would go on to include the items from hardcore and Goth and skaters and hip hop too.
When asked to describe punk dress in general, many self-identified punks interviewed for Punk Style responded with the phrase “I guess” and other qualifiers and pauses, suggesting they were trying to put themselves in the shoes of someone else looking in on the punk scene; they were trying to describe what an outsider might see. While their answers did support the idea that punk has an iconic look, they also reflected the understanding that this look is often merely a caricature, presenting only a narrow viewpoint. In contrast, they answered with confidence to the question “describe punk dress as you personally have worn it” and other related inquiries into their own punk styling.
Today, punk style has a forty-year history, with a host of influences and a myriad of characteristic pieces that make up the look, as well as flexibility to include new components. Origins of the key aspects of punk style—which include the color black; heavy accessories; boots; clothing that is tattered and manipulated; piercings; tattoos; unnatural hair colors; facial hair; band logos; and jeans, T-shirts, and hooded sweatshirts—have become fragmented and fractured through various subgenres under the punk umbrella. The most important thing is that it’s punk by the wearer definition.
H: In terms of the history of fashion, what do you feel are the most important origins or touchstones for punk style; it’s influencers, icons, and predecessors?
M: As I describe in Punk Style, New York and London in the 1970s were areas of great impact on what would become the aesthetic aspects of punk style, however it was developing in many places at the same time and has continued to evolve. In London Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren were innovators, introducing looks that would come to epitomize punk, through their boutique. Social groups, such as the Bromley Contingent, explored a host of exciting clothing styles as well. In New York, musicians like Richard Hell and the Ramones were crucial and derived their look from street styles. Tish and Snooky of Manic Panic had the first punk clothing store in the US and would go on to start their widespread line of cosmetics/hair dye. Scene leaders within geographic regions or new related movements such as hardcore, riot grrrl, and cyberpunk, for example, would change the visuals to suit new motivations and their dress would be widely copied. An increase in subcultures interrelating with punk, such as skinhead and rockabilly, brought more styles into the fold.
Punks styles’ predecessors were social, art, design and political waves including the Situationists, Lettrists, hippies, beatniks, greasers, mods, Dadaists, surrealists, and even mid century modernists, and the arts and crafts movements. Tech progressions have strongly impacted its current incarnations. Basically whoever incorporated DIY and “status quo challenging” ideas into their style could be said to have helped shape punk style.
H: How do see Punk style manifesting now and in the future?
M: Maturation and accessibility are two major benefits and complications of punk style today. Original punks of the 70s and 80s are now parents/grandparents, homeowners, leaders in their professions, though many are burned out or deceased. Yet new adolescents declare themselves punk daily, and those two groups have limited experiences in common. But, punk can be related to both of them in different ways. The style reacts over time to have new cultural relevance and individuals have changing budgets, bodies and lifestyle.
As technology has increased access to one another and to products, more people can partake in acquiring punk style. Yet, some would argue it then lacks the intimacy and commitment that once was a key factor in developing the “look.” I think the future will see more normalization of iconic punk styles such as colored hair, tartan plaids, body modifications, and new ideas coming into the fold to continue to differentiate that in-the-know punk person from the rest. Some would say that the normalization means it is watered down if it lacks shock and commentary. Others would argue that mainstream acceptance of more diverse appearances is a “win” for a battle punk was fighting against repression and conformity.
All images copyright Monica Sklar and Harlo Petoskey
Heather A. Vaughan is a President of the Western Region of Costume Society of America; is an author and independent fashion historian; and is currently working in the curatorial department at Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding, CA. Her blog, Fashion Historia, often features book reviews and history as it relates to California, fashion, and textiles.
I thought I would start my first UK based bi-weekly contribution with a review of Bath Fashion Museum, one of the most significant dress collections in the country. However, there is a twist. My visit took place in the last week of 2013, in an effort to catch a final glimpse of the museum’s fiftieth anniversary celebrations. Described as one of the top 10 fashion collections in the world, I had previously overlooked this museum in my dress and museum education pursuits. I discovered that Bath Fashion Museum has a collection of approximately 80,000 objects compared to 75,000 within the Fashion and Textile Collections at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. To have not noticed the potential of Bath’s offerings is in part due to being a self-confessed citycentric Londoner.
So in an effort to address this oversight, I hope to spend my time with Worn Through bringing you news of more regional events and exhibitions. The visit to Bath Fashion Museum did not disappoint and I can only stress how much it is worth leaving the capital to visit this extensive and thoughtfully exhibited collection.
According to their website, the museum opened in 23 May 1963 as the Museum of Costume and was founded by Doris Langley Moore, an enthusiastic scholar and avid collector of dress. Moore is notable for her interest in fashionable dress as a social and historical practice, based upon detailed object observation and research. According to Dr Lou Taylor, Moore challenged the more psychological, theoretical approach favoured by her contemporaries such as James Laver and Chris Cunnington.
As the presenter of a television series produced by the BBC entitled Men, Women and Clothes, broadcast in April 1957, most of the garments featured were from her private collection then housed in Eridge Castle, Sussex. This series is fascinating viewing for anyone interested in fashion history and theory. Moore’s deep, heavily enunciated narration is hypnotic listening while the attempt to visualise and explain historical changes in dress highly innovative for the time. The decision to use real people in period dress, although considered unacceptable today due to the damage caused to the garments, vividly brings the timeline of fashionable dress to life.
Once the collection was permanently based at Bath and opened to the public, Moore continued to make sure that displays provided as much contextual information as possible, ensuring mannequins were realistically styled in accordance with the particular dress period.
Bath Fashion Museum can be found in the basement of the Assembly Rooms, a set of public rooms opened in 1771 for the purpose of Georgian entertainment. Situated in the upper part of the town centre, the Assembly Rooms is a pleasant 15-20 minute walk from the train station through the historic main streets, which nicely takes in both the Roman Baths and Bath Abbey. Once there, it is possible to see the rather sparse, although clearly splendid at the time, entertainment rooms upstairs before descending upon what is essentially an underground museum. A free audio guide is on offer and although I would recommend this, it was at times slightly unnecessary for those who perhaps prefer to read, rather than listen to, the information on display.
The visitor to the museum is taken on a tour of six key displays, as well as a hands-on area where both adults and children can try on reproduction historical dress such as crinolines, corsets, bonnets, top hats and sportswear. The museum’s website currently cites nine displays but three of these took place earlier in the year so were unavailable on my visit. The breadth of displays on offer in 2013 impressed me, bringing a dynamism to the visit that I think is missing from larger museums such as the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Introduction to the 50 Fabulous Frocks display
Champagne bottle fancy dress 1904
Before entering the first display, the visitor is presented with a single outfit at the bottom of the stairs. A fancy dress costume circa 1904, it is an attempt to imitate a bottle of champagne and on the website there is an image of it being worn by an unknown lady. It is a clever and fun introduction to the following display entitled 50 Fabulous Frocks, which is a celebration of the museum’s collection since it opened fifty years ago. It encapsulates an ethos where dress is valued across all sections of society, and is not just designer gowns and celebrity faces. It highlights how dressing up is a well established cultural practice, putting the body in praxis as we reflect upon why and by whom this particular costume was made. Lastly, the symbol of a champagne bottle evokes a celebratory mood, providing a soundtrack of popping corks, effervescent bubbles and raised voices exchanging notes on best fancy dress to accompany the visitor as they experience 50 Fabulous Frocks.
The display is a rich and varied experience, showcasing outfits from the collections that span over 300 years. I particularly liked the juxtaposition of an Ossie Clark floor length dress back to back with a 1930s evening gown. Not only are there fantastic examples of everyday dress, such as a 1940s housecoat where each printed polka dot has been individually quilted to give the whole garment a 3D appearance or the embroidered coat made by an unknown art student, the information labels for each outfit also nicely evoke the social, cultural and economic contexts while avoiding being too academic.
There is an eclectic mix of mannequins to reflect fifty years of displaying fashion. This was an interesting device as it made subtle reference to the history of the museum, again without being overly didactic. I would love to see an exhibition here in the future that focused upon their wonderful collection of mannequins, especially as Moore was known for paying close attention to this detail. Labels for the garments were on the surrounding walls while the objects were displayed in two large cases inaccessible from all sides, which meant much walking back and forth. On the one hand, this almost deterred the visitor from reading about each outfit while on the other, it could have engaged more deeply as they had to actively take control of their own learning by matching up the label with the outfit. In doing so, the visitors could put together their own story of the collection’s highlights.
Interesting choice of mannequins – there were a few items of menswear also in the display!
Zandra Rhodes outfit
Following on from this display is 17th Century Gloves, which is small and first opened in 2007 when the museum changed its name to Bath Fashion Museum. It features some of the rarest objects in the collection, with the presentation of 20 pairs of gloves that are over 400 years old. The labels make good use of questions as a way to frame each glove’s unique history. This helps to focus a visitor who may find it initially hard to engage with the significance of such specific objects.
After the gloves, the visitor is invited to view the Behind the Scenes display, which on reflection was a fascinating experience once I read that most visitors to the museum are tourists on the Bath historic site tour. Simply put, the display is focused on the changing fashions of women’s dress in the 1800s until the very early 1900s. However, what the curators have done is to place this chronology against the ‘working’ backdrop of the museum itself. Seven ceiling to floor glass vitrines provide a view onto the museum’s stores in the form of labelled boxes and containers stacked up against interior walls, seen behind the mannequins in the foreground. They are further supported by a cast of references from literature, letters, diaries, magazines and advice manuals from the period.
In her essay Staging Royal London in London: From Punk to Blair, Fiona Henderson suggests that the tourist gaze often seeks out alternative experiences in an effort to uncover the authenticity of a particular place. By illustrating a historical period with these ‘behind the scenes’ snapshots that present the museum as a place of work, the display offers the average Bath tourist a potential new cultural geography of the area. However, this attempt to peel back the official layers of a museum exhibition relies on the display being a performance, which is perhaps demonstrated by the absence of doors or space within the vitrines for people to work with the objects.
A glimpse of Bath’s fashion archive through the vitrine
Leaving the Behind the Scenes display, the visitor is guided through two displays, the permanent 20th Century Fashion and Glamour, a temporary exhibition celebrating women’s evening wear over the last 100 years. What I liked here was how the labels made suggestions about who might wear similar outfits to those on display. For example, a 1920s coat was labelled with the following: ‘Think…Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald (1925)’ This encourages the visitor to culturally place the garment, inviting him/her to survey one’s own memory for relevant references.
- Models from the 20th century gallery – was particularly drawn to this mannequin in motion!
The final display is Dress of the Year, which is an interesting and appropriate end to the museum’s visit. Begun by Langley Moore when the museum opened in 1963, it is a collection of items chosen each year by someone to reflect the fashion of the preceding 12 months. Alongside a selection of previous candidates, including Mary Quant in 1963, Scott Crolla in 1985 and Versace in 2000, was the dress of the year for 2012. Chosen by Vanessa Friedman, Fashion Editor of the Financial Times, it is a Christian Dior ensemble designed by its newest designer Raf Simons. The outfit appropriately marks Simons debut at Dior by drawing attention to his cutting in half of the New Look silhouette to create a contemporary, arguably more androgynous look. Not only did I like the choice but I also loved the complex simplicity of this display idea. Dress of the Year is an invaluable archive and the museum’s website provides concise information about each year’s selection since the display’s inception. I look forward to finding out what Susie Lau, the well established fashion blogger, will choose to represent 2013 in March this year.
The complete list since 1963
Dress of the Year 2012 – Raf Simons for Dior
Special mention must be made about a huge suggestion board within the museum for other relevant dress collections and exhibitions, where I spent a good amount of time reading all the postcards. I came away with a great inventory and alongside a list made by the Faculty of Arts at the University of Brighton for dress collections in the southern areas of England this will now form the basis for my future excursions. I would also love to hear about more events taking place across the UK, especially in the Northern regions, so please do email me at email@example.com or add it to the comments below.
Visitor’s suggestions – brilliant!
As I mentioned in my first book review for Worn Through, I believe the recreation of historical garments is a useful way to get closer to the study of dress, especially as museums tighten their research policies. Both the making and the wearing are direct and physical interactions with the experience of historical clothing, if imperfect for reasons you can read in that first post. Jill Salen, who has written a series of books that instruct on re-creating extant garments from museum collections, takes painstaking patterns from these garments in the fashion of Janet Arnold; the patterns are laid out on a graph with minimal instruction but awesome detail. While providing the intellectual material to recreate the garments, the books of Salen and Arnold as well as the classics of Norah Waugh and the new classics of Jenny Tiramani provide a material culture context for the field. Even if you’re not a seamstress, it is fascinating, as well as helpful, to see how all the pieces fit together (or at least what they look like year by year).
Batsford, which published Salen’s books, has an expanding library of pattern books that help the vintage lover, the renaissance fairey, and the costumer re-create their desired clothing from the 16th century through the 1980s (!). The approach of each book is as unique as the writer, and I will caution that the quality and usefulness varies. I recently received two books from Batsford, and Vintage: Dress Patterns of the 20th Century by Anne Tyrrell is one of the less useful of the many I’ve had the chance to peruse as both costumer and reviewer. It provides very basic patterns and information that require a high level of skill to carry out, and patchy information. I can’t imagine why anyone would go to all the trouble to scale up, alter, and draw patterns from the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s when more interesting designs from those decades in a wider range of sizes are frustratingly plentiful in thrift stores and online? It’s even easy to buy reproduced 1920s and 1930s patterns on Etsy, for example. The measurements on which all Tyrrell’s patterns are based, 34-26-36, seem a bit on the small side for a book that should cater to the “average” woman in the 2010s; I’m within the zone of average and would have to up those measurements by 3-6 inches. With its introductory/overview tone, I suppose the target reader would be an accomplished seamstress with mysteriously little access to or prior knowledge of vintage patterns.
Creating Historical Clothes, on the other hand, contains much of the same information I learned in Cutting and Draping at NYU. A comprehensive but compact sewing course is offered here, again not for the beginner but rich and instructive. It assumes the reader will be logical and have experience sewing and maybe some experience constructing their own patterns. The format is 2-D, paper drafting; there is not a lot of information about fitting toiles and making consequent adjustments to the pattern. The best way to gain those skills is through empirical practice.
Detail from page 156 of “Creating Historical Costume” by Elizabeth Friendship, 2013.
The author, Elizabeth Friendship, acknowledges the excellent resources that predate her work, but notes rightfully that many of the exacting patterns taken from extant garments are limited and limiting, as they only depict one or two styles of each selected time period. Friendship’s pattern book takes a different tack, offering foundational patterns intended for the costumer and costume student that can then be altered, enhanced, and finished according to a storyboard and research. The title is telling: this book is all about creating, less about historical research. The patterns are probably “accurate”–we don’t get a finished view, or even an intended view, as the patterns are clean canvasses for the user’s creativity–but they are not intended to be strict re-creations of historic garments. They will give the look, and probably generally the feel when made of the “right” fabric and worn with the correct underclothes.
Chapter title page from “Creating Historical Costume” by Elizabeth Friendship, 2013.
The 16th-19th centuries are addressed in separate chapters, and the introductions offer three pages of text as well as relevant contemporary paintings and fashion plates. Some individual patterns also include a painting for reference, in case you need a reminder of how finely Watteau painted the “sack-back” gown you are hoping to construct or just how wide 1860s skirts could grow.
Detail from p.84 of “Creating Historical Clothing” by Elizabeth Friendship, 2013.
Included is a short list of visual resources, such as Gheeraerts the Younger, van Dyck, Ter Borch, and le Clerc for the seventeenth century, and a glossary of terms specific to that period. Friendship is also careful to suggest further research in the notes for some patterns, such as for the “Corset 1730-1740.” She asserts that her pattern is “a simplified version of the corsets of the period. If a more authentic corset is required, consult a specialist book.” (134)  With extensive diagramming and notes, the instructions are encouraging.
Diagram about “Taking Measurements” (p.13) from “Creating Historical Clothing” by Elizabeth Friendship, 2013.
The book’s introduction offers a wealth of guidance, from measurement charts and a diagram on where to take them to historical stitches and even how to calculate the proper dimensions of a sleeve cap. Next are a slew of basic patterns: bodice and various sleeves, basic skirts and trousers (there are no trousers in this book), as well as how to move darts, making strapless and low-cut bodices, how to adjust for a large bust, and more. Which crash course is followed by 150 pages of patterns and information. NB: only women’s dress is represented here; for men’s see Further Resources.
Detail from “Creating Historical Clothing” by Elizabeth Friendship, 2013.
Having the basic drafting instructions in the same book makes for easy reference, and I suggest reading them carefully before beginning, perhaps more than once. The diagrams are well-marked and fascinating, but may require an eye used to looking at drafted patterns and pieces.
Is this relevant for fashion historians? If you’re interested in the evolution of, say, the bodice throughout the history of Western Fashion, this is an interesting study. All of the patterns are based on a classic sloper, or bodice, and creating a pointed front or an intricately pieced back will give the practitioner a practical knowledge. And again, the sensory, experiential knowledge that comes from having made and/or worn such a garment can be useful. As mentioned above, this book assumes additional research will be conducted on the time period, and Friendship offers a short bibliography.
Detail from page 174 of “Creating Historical Costume” by Elizabeth Friendship, 2013.
Creating Historical Clothes is an excellent resource for the “students and teachers of costume and costume makers” the author identified in the introduction; had it come out ten years earlier it would have been in my personal library as a costume design undergrad. An accomplished costume designer herself, Friendship is said to have a “unique method of drafting patterns,” presumably what we are taught in the book. The fashion historian interested in the material cultural aspects of dress (like me) will also benefit from the opportunity to think about the construction of historic dress from a piece-by-piece perspective. I prefer documented extant garments, which serves a more direct research purpose, but Creating Historical Clothes is a detailed and modern resource for understanding and making historical garments.
 May we suggest Jill Salen’s Corsets and Waugh’s Corsets and Crinolines?
Lead Image Credit: cover of Creating Historical Clothes by Elizabeth Friendship. London: Batsford, 2013.
Arnold, Janet. Patterns of Fashion: The cut and construction of patterns for men and women, 1560-1620. London: Macmillan, 1985.
Arnold, Janet. Englishwomen’s dresses and their construction, 1660-1860. London: Macmillan, 1977.
Arnold, Janet. Englishwomen’s dresses and their construction, 1860-1940. London: Macmillan, 1993.
Arnold, Janet and Jenny Tiramani. Patterns of Fashion 4. Hollywood, CA: Quite Specific Media Group, 2008.
Friendship, Elizabeth. Pattern Cutting for Men’s Costume. London: Methuen Drama, 2008.
Mikhaila, Ninya and Jane Malcolm-Davies. The Tudor Tailor. London: Batsford, 2006.
Salen, Jill. Corsets: Historical Patterns and Techniques. London, Batsford: 2008.
Salen, Jill. Vintage Swimwear: Historical Patterns and Techniques. London: Batsford, 2013.
Tiramani, Jenny et al. Seventeenth-century women’s dress patterns. London: V&A Publishing, 2011.
Tiramani, Jenny and Susan North. Seventeenth-century women’s dress patterns 2. London, V&A Publishing, 2012.
Waugh, Norah. Corsets and Crinolines. London: Routledge, 2004 .
Waugh, Norah. The Cut of Men’s Clothes: 1600-1900. New York: Theatre Arts Books, 1964.
Waugh, Norah. The Cut of Women’s Clothes: 1600-1930. New York: Theatre Arts Books, 1974.
Today, to enter 2014 with a light spirit, I have to present a ‘mea culpa’! I often despise the lack of well coordinated and thorough online resources when it comes to French fashion and costume museums as I harshly did in my post about the Fondation Pierre Bergé – Yves Saint Laurent Archives, arguing the Musée Galliera did not even have a proper website. Well, things have changed and I must admit I secretly imagined they have heard my many complaints…
Today, even though it is not pitch-perfect yet (but it’s a good start!), the Palais Galliera proposes an interesting and clear website on which, and that’s what I was mostly looking for, you can discover a few notable pieces from their rich collections. I know how prosperous and beautiful the museum’s storage rooms are and how I longed for this to happen. Of course, as I said: we’re only at the very start of a new movement, probably coinciding with the museum’s reopening, and only a little number of garments are pictured and documented but I’m glad nonetheless there’s a little something to eat.
I appreciate the minimalist and elegant aspect of the website that precisely narrates the story of the museum’s making, its history, its collections.
The Collections are organised within different categories: 18th Century Dress – 19th Century Costumes – Fashion of the first half of the 20th Century – Haute Couture – Contemporary Fashion – Undergarments – Accessories – Prints and Drawings – Photographies.
Each department is introduced by an engaging presentation that summarizes the key information that is to be known about the collection’s pieces. Simple and brief material, surely insufficient for researchers and professionals but an appropriate highlight for the public in general whom is given an insight on what happens behind the curtains.
Here are a few of my favourite works I explored on the museum’s website:
Each piece is precisely described and its story, when known, clearly told. I appreciate we are given the information on how the object made it into the collections.
Casaquin – 1730-1740
Orange Silk, Blue Lining, Gilded Silver Lace
Belonged to a member of the house of Ligne.
Coat – 1813
Red Silk Velvet, Silver Lamé Thread, Sequins and Cannetilles Embroidery
Belonged to Marshal Bertrand, under Napoleon.
An exquisite example of fashion meets art meets history:
Fragonard Evening Dress – Vivienne Westwood – SS 1991
I love that the Palais Galliera chose to present most objects with photographies taken within the storage rooms. It brings a je-ne-sais-quoi industrial feel. There is something very aesthetic in placing their stunning and delicate garments against a modernist steel background. It’s a radical choice that places the dress very far from their original contexts and use while it however installs them firmly within their present context, that is the museum and its ghostly yet romantic storage rooms.
Waistcoat over a giant Singlet – Maison Martin Margiela – SS 1990
The collections’ photographies, especially for the contemporary garments, are the result of a veritable mise-en-scène. Some pieces are even shown against the Palais’ exterior colonnade. A seductive decision that roots the objects in a playful and dramatic environment just like a fashion photo shoot would do with models. I wrote, above, that the storage room images placed the garments as museum objects, when the images taken outside or within other spaces of the Palais seem to bring them to life again. These online resources’ photographies themselves set the debate on conserved dress as ‘living’ fashion item or/and ‘dead’ museum object.
I have, unfortunately, not found the name of the photograph (s) who have worked on this project. I would have loved to as I really love the result…and they deserve to be quoted.
Drawing Maison Jacques Heim – AW 1959-1960
The online resources also provide the public with documentation such as drawings and contextual photographies.
Photography by Otto – Countess Greffuhle – 1887
The presence of museums and their collections online are to me essential: they are an indispensable tool to professionals and bring art into the living rooms of those who don’t or cannot pay a visit to their real-life spaces. I highly appreciate that French museums are (finally!) making an effort. We haven’t reached the standards of a MET or a V&A yet but I do hope this is only the very beginning of a profound reflection and questioning.
Do you agree? Do you think online resources are as important as I tend to think? Do you use them much?
This guest post comes courtesy of Heidi Brevik-Zender, one of the two recipients of Worn Through’s first research award. Heidi is Assistant Professor of French and Comparative Literature at UC Riverside where she directs the French Program. Her research interests are in French literature and culture of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with an emphasis on the study of sartorial fashion, gender, aesthetics and issues of modernity. Publications include works on literary and pictorial representations of fashion in works by Zola, Maupassant, and Rachilde; films by Sofia Coppola and Catherine Breillat; and the television series Mad Men.
The deadline for Worn Through’s second annual research award has been announced. Please check here for details on the award and selection process.
I was delighted to be named co-winner (with Elizabeth Way) of the inaugural Worn Through Research Award. The award was used to offset reproduction fees for an image that will be included in my book entitled Fashioning Spaces: Mode and Modernity in Late-Nineteenth-Century Paris. The book will be available from University of Toronto Press in 2014.
Fashioning Spaces studies literature, paintings, and period garments produced in Paris from 1870 to 1900. It argues that the chroniclers of Parisian modernity – writers like Emile Zola and Guy de Maupassant as well as artists like Edgar Degas and Gustave Caillebotte – depicted key moments of fashion not exclusively in public settings but rather in intermediate locations where the exterior and spectacular meet interiority and intimacy. How does this point of view represent a new way to think about cities and fashion and how the two are connected?
To work toward an answer we might start by thinking about fashionable areas of Paris in the late nineteenth century. Our thoughts likely go to boulevards, parks, theaters, department stores, modern wrought-iron buildings, and racetracks. Studying fashion’s role in these locations makes sense, because during this period this is where people went wearing their finest garments, to view how others wore their wealth, class, and expressed themselves through clothing while simultaneously finding an audience for their own sartorial display. We associate wide avenues, manicured city gardens, and cosmopolitan train stations with Parisian modernity in part through our exposure to them in well-known paintings by Impressionists, such as Degas, Claude Monet, Mary Cassatt, or Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Also, many of these spectacular locations, such as the Tuileries gardens, the Garnier opera house, and, of course, the Eiffel Tower, still exist in the French capital today.
However, what I uncovered in my research is that, especially in literature but also in visual art, those authors and artists who were living in Paris in the late decades of the nineteenth century were actually quite concerned with other kinds of spaces, including more private, liminal and sometimes difficult to define areas of the cityscape. In fact, there was such an abundance of these locations in novels, short stories, and images that I decided to focus on a manageable cross section of them. I chose the three spaces that I thought were the most compelling, which were staircases, waiting rooms, and fashion ateliers.
This brings us to the Worn Through Research award. The image in my book that the award has funded is the painting Hush! by the French painter James Tissot:
Hush! (1875), James Tissot (1836-1902),
Oil on canvas
Manchester Art Gallery
I selected Tissot’s painting Hush! for the first image in my book because I think it has interesting things to say about relationships between fashion and space in this period. As we can see, clothing is clearly one of the most important features of this stylish late-century salon. As viewers, our attention might first be drawn to the bright yellow-and-white gown of the violinist in the heart of the composition, or perhaps to the massive fan and flounced layers of the skirt worn by the women in the left foreground. The black tulle of the central figure spills dramatically across the floor, and the vaguely Eastern “Oriental” garments worn by the male spectators in the back right provide the touch of exoticism that was so in vogue in nineteenth-century Europe. Initially we sense that the main salon is where all of the fashion “action” is taking place; here, the well dressed have come to see and be seen in their most eye-catching outfits.
And yet, there is another space of interest in the painting. In Fashioning Spaces I call attention to the upper-left section of the composition, which depicts a staircase filled with overflow concertgoers. The staircase seems to be outside the setting of the painting – literally in another room – but it is also connected to the concert space through echoes in clothing items that lead us out the doorway and up the curve of the ornate iron banister. Once we are aware of them, the elegantly dressed spectators located in the stairwell might capture our interest even more than the audience in the salon. They represent subversions of proper bourgeois behavior through their flaunting of rules – they sit on stairs, not chairs! They are seen but not completely knowable, in view but just beyond the sanctioned space of the concert room. Concentrating on the staircase couple on the furthest left, we wonder what they might be saying to one other, just out of earshot. The painting’s intrigue is as much on the staircase as it is in the “main” space of the composition.
Fashioning Spaces is about focusing on unexpected intersections of space and fashion such as those in Tissot’s canvas. I examine tensions surrounding gender expression in literature by the female writer Rachilde, an author who created scandalous cross-dressing heroines, emancipated bloomer-wearing New Women, and sharply tailored women horse-riders known as amazones. The book studies the surprising subtext of national trauma in Emile Zola’s department-store novel Au Bonheur des dames and issues of class represented by the chic social climbers in Guy de Maupassant’s short stories and novel Bel-Ami. Alongside paintings, such as those depicting powerful and elegant dandies by Gustave Caillebotte, I include analyses of period garments, like the robe à transformation, a dress style that grew to heights of popularity in the nineteenth century because it accorded women a measure of flexibility by allowing them to change from daytime dress to eveningwear in record time.
It is an exciting time to be working on nineteenth-century French fashion because a great deal of insightful scholarship from a variety of academic disciplines has appeared in recent years. Here are some of the books that have been most useful to me, listed in chronological order starting with the newest titles:
Having It All in the Belle Epoque: How French Women’s Magazines Invented the Modern Woman by Rachel Mesch (Stanford University Press, 2013) http://www.sup.org/book.cgi?id=22400
Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity edited by Gloria Groom (Yale University Press, 2012) http://yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/book.asp?isbn=9780300184518
Changing France: Literature and Material Culture in the Second Empire by Anne Green (Anthem Press, 2011) http://www.anthempress.com/changing-france-pb
Accessories to Modernity: Fashion and the Feminine in Nineteenth-Century France by Susan Hiner (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2010) http://www.upenn.edu/pennpress/book/14733.html
The Places and Spaces of Fashion, 1800-1907 edited by John Potvin (New York: Routledge, 2009) http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415873826/
Classic Chic: Music, Fashion and Modernism by Mary E. Davis (University of California Press, 2008) http://www.ucpress.edu/book.php?isbn=9780520256217
Sheer Presence: The Veil in Manet’s Paris by Marni Reva Kessler (University of Minnesota Press, 2006) http://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/sheer-presence
Couture Culture: A Study in Modern Art and Fashion by Nancy J. Troy (The MIT Press, 2002) http://mitpress2.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?ttype=2&tid=9101
Tigersprung: Fashion in Modernity by Ulrich Lehmann (The MIT Press, 2000) http://mitpress2.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?ttype=2&tid=4261
Two classic studies include:
Paris Fashion: A Cultural History by Valerie Steele (Oxford University Press, 1988; reprinted by Berg in 1998 and 2006)
Adorned in Dreams: Fashion and Modernity by Elizabeth Wilson (Virago Press, 1985; reprinted by I.B. Tauris in 2003 and 2005)