Interview: Michele Carragher, Costume Embroiderer for Game of Thrones

Recently the incredibly talented and lovely Michele Carragher took the time to answer some questions for Worn Through. Carragher is a costume embroiderer and illustrator for film and television, her most recent work for HBO’s 2005 miniseries, Elizabeth I, and the historical/fantasy adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire,” Game of Thrones, now in its fifth season. She trained in design and illustration at London College of Fashion and in saddlery at Cordwainers College. Prior to her career in film and television, Carragher worked as textile conservator in museums and private collections, specializing in hand embroidery. Below, she shares the path she took to her specialized field, her research process, and advice for aspiring embroiderers. You can find her on Facebook and see more of her work on her website.

Image courtesty of Michele Carragher

You studied design at London College of Fashion. What made you decide to go into fashion? Was your goal to go into costume design?

I think when I left school I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, all I knew is that I wanted to work in a creative field where I could utilise the various mediums I had a passion for, such as illustration, painting, sculpture and the creation of costumes. So when it came to a choice of study it was between art or fashion, I can’t really remember how I came to make the choice, but fashion won in the end.

At the London College of Fashion I really enjoyed the craft aspects of the course, millinery, knitting and embroidery, but I became aware that the work I produced on the course wasn’t mainstream fashion, more avant-garde, maybe if at that stage I had been aware of Haute Couture I may have gravitated towards that.

Later on through my time at college I made friends who were on the Theatre Design course and was fascinated with their work. I did think of swapping courses but at that stage it was too late to change direction.

After college because of my hand embroidery skills I had the opportunity to work in textile conservation and it is here that I honed my hand sewing and embroidery skills. At the same time I started to be involved in low budget filmmaking with a group of friends designing and making the costumes for their films, through this I progressed onto professional filming jobs.

So I didn’t have an intended goal as such to get into costume, my work path evolved gradually over many years.

Game of Thrones character Sansa Stark wore this dress for the Tourney of the Hand in the first season. Image credit:

You studied many areas of fashion design in college, but your specialty now is embroidery. Did you focus on embroidery in your program? Was that something you had practiced prior to your course at London College of Fashion?

I did some basic embroidery at school and was always involved in making costumes and painting sets for any plays or productions that were put on. At home my Mother and Grandmother made clothes, knitted and embroidered so I was encouraged creatively by them both.

The first major manifestation of using embroidery creatively was while I studied fashion design at college. Many of the designs that I was conceiving there, I wanted them to have a sculptural presence, so in order to get the desired look I invested much time into learning skills to aid me, skills like embroidery and knitting. For my final collection I created handmade knitwear pieces which had 3 dimensional sculptured heads of the fantasy figure of Pan surrounded with crocheted oak leaves and acorns on each arm.    .

What are some of your favourite pieces you worked on as a textile conservator? What elements of this work did you find challenging?

One of the first textiles I worked on was a lovely 18th century English quilt cover that only had one quarter embroidered and needed the rest filling in to complete it. It was similar to crewel work as regards to the mixture of stitches used but was finer and executed with silk threads rather than the traditional wool used in crewel work. That was quite a task to take on but I learnt a lot whilst doing it, how the design was put together, the different combination of stitches to create the stylised flowers and leaves. I think it took me a couple of months to complete, probably twice as long as I thought it would, so by working on this large piece it has helped me become more aware of and understand how to estimate timings for future work.

Some other interesting pieces I had to do a little conservation work on were a couple of costumes worn by Marilyn Monroe, the famous little black beaded number worn in “Some Like it Hot” and the sexy show stopping red sequined dress from “Gentlemen Prefer Blonds” that she and her co-star Jane Russell wore. These were displayed in an exhibition at The Imperial War Museum in London, they were lovely to see and were so tiny.

One of the most enjoyable pieces that I had to conserve was a pair of 16th Century gloves. The leather of the gloves was in good condition but the gauntlet section needed to come off so that I could patch any holes in the silk and sew down any loose embroidery and gold threads. The silk godets on the gauntlet in between the embroidered sections needed patching and in some cases replacing where the original fabric was too rotten. Once I had conserved the gauntlets I then joined these sections back on to the gloves. It was quite satisfying working on these beautiful period gems and it inspires me to want to make my own version of an embroidery encrusted gauntlet glove.

Game of Thrones character Daenerys Targaryen’s costumes for season three were embellished with textured “dragonscale” embroidery. Click the image for more information about Carragher’s technique. Image credit:

When you worked as a Costume Assistant/Maker, what were some of the sources you utilized for research? Along the same lines, what sources do you look at when developing a new concept for embroidery/surface decoration? As you were inspired by historic textiles–does that include motifs, stitches, etc?

My basic approach process is similar for each project. I start by meeting with the costume designer who will already have researched what they want and will have moodboards, design sketches, fabric swatches and possibly toiles of the costume.

I then go off and do my own research, If it is a historical piece then I will look at the type and style of decoration suitable for the period in question. I will look at historical costume and textile reference books, also on the Net and in museums too, as it is always good to see the real thing with the naked eye if possible. I will then gather together suitable fabrics, trimmings, beads, threads etc to help me recreate something based on my research and understanding of the period and then I start sampling some ideas.

The textiles that I see in my conservation work are a constant inspiration and I always document motifs and patterns or techniques that are useful to be able to use in my costume embroidery work.

You sometimes work directly on a garment and sometimes on crepeline first. For what reasons do you choose one vs. the other?

Time is always an issue when producing work for film and TV. On a big budget film there will be more preparation and research time and the actors may be cast earlier.

So if the costume designer has a specific piece in mind to do then a toile of the costume can be made and fitted and from this you could plan your embroidery. The costume cutter would then tack out the pattern pieces on the actual fabric and you could stretch the fabric in a frame and embroider onto it, then the costume could be made up. But you may not have time to finish the embroidery before the Maker needs to put the costume together for a fitting with the actor, this all depends on planning and scheduling.

On TV you get far less preparation time and so it is easier if the costume is made up and can be fitted as that is most important and I can then work on the garment in between fittings. I have found during my time working on Game of Thrones that the best solution is for me to start the embroidery separately to the costume, creating a kind of motif that I can then apply to the costume and work on it further if needs be.

The reason for me using silk crepeline is that it is very sheer and can be dyed to match the costume, so that when I stitch the embroidered motif onto the garment the base fabric of the silk crepeline becomes almost invisible.

There is not a right or wrong way to decorate or embroider you just have to find the best solution to each particular situation and for me by creating the initial stages of my embroidery on organza/silk crepeline it means I can be more ambitious with the work that I want to create and have less pressure on myself as I am not holding up the costume maker’s process.

Carragher’s eye embroidery on a costume for HBO’s Elizabeth I miniseries. This motif can be seen in the “Rainbow Portrait” of Elizabeth I by Isaac Oliver, c. 1600. Image credit:

Game of Thrones combines history with fantasy. In designing embroidery and decoration for these costumes, do you attempt to combine these elements? Are you given direction from Michele Clapton or others? How is working on Game of Thrones different from a period drama, like Elizabeth 1?

When Game of Thrones was first being put together the producers wanted to create something that although it is a fantasy, it should be a believable world and so it was approached as if it was a real period drama, something a kin to a Medieval one, but the designers were free to draw on elements from anywhere to suit each tribe or character as long as it fits their situation, status, or narrative story. So the script is the first port of call and I take my guidance from the costume designer, who will have had many meetings with other heads of department regarding the look, style and tone of the production.

For a historical drama there are usually documented references for you to draw on, in books, on the Net and in museums, and you use all these to influence your designs but you don’t have to recreate pin point accurate embroideries, as there wouldn’t be time to do this. You are trying to create an impression of the style of work that is believable to the audience as belonging to the period you are portraying on screen and is suitable for the particular character’s status or narrative story. With a fantasy like Game of Thrones you have more freedom to create designs as you are not restricted to a specific period in time.

Whatever genre of film you are working towards conveying a visual narrative to the audience to create a believable and understandable world, be it contemporary, fictional, factual or fantasy.

It’s fascinating to see images of your embroidery up close, since many of us watch movies and TV on small computer screens and can miss these details. What’s a standout costume or costumes viewers should look for in the upcoming Game of Thrones season (if you’re allowed to tell us)?

For season 5 of Game of Thrones I enjoyed working on many designs for a variety of characters, but as I don’t get to see the filming process, the first time I see the costumes is when the programme airs, so I am not sure what will be seen.

At the moment I can not reveal too much detail about the costumes that I have worked on, as I am sworn to secrecy, but I wouldn’t be giving out too much of a spoiler to your question as HBO have already released sneak peek images of one of the main characters that I created embroidery for in Season 5, and that is Myrcella, Cersei’s daughter who was sent away to, and now lives in Dorne. I would say the costumes that I worked on for her would be my personal recommendation to look out for, they have a delicate seductive romanticism to them. I really enjoyed working on them, being able to use new materials and techniques within the designs.

Can you share any tidbits about the 18th century pilot you’re working on? Is this requiring you to delve into new research?

Sorry I can’t give any details as when you work on film and TV you have to be very secretive until the programme has been aired to the wider public. But obviously the 18th century has some fantastic embroidery and there’s nothing I love more than trawling the Net for interesting and unique examples of particular embroidery. It’s amazing how much variety there is and you realise that you can do anything you like really, as in each era there were embroiderers who created immaculate pieces, some more simple and some avant-garde or stranger pieces too, as with any art form it is all in the mind of the creator.

A timelapse of 42 hours of embroidery by Carragher.

For our readers wishing to learn embroidery, do you recommend any specific programs or methods? What is your advice for embroiderers who want to enter the film/TV field?

Simply learn by doing, start with something easy, try out different stitches, some are easier and quicker to do. You may find it easier to copy some existing embroidery you like and then progress towards designing your own, you will find your own style naturally. Some people will be neat and precise, others may be naturally looser and more organic. Although there are different styles and techniques there is no right or wrong thing to do, someone somewhere initially invented each stitch to suit what they had in mind and the materials to hand, so just have a go. Some threads are easier to use than others so experiment, metallics can be tricky and need more patience, you just need to practise as with anything and a lot of the accuracy of technique is in the control of the entry and exit points of the needle, you will gradually use most of your fingers on both hands to feel the needle and thread as you work.

There are too many books to list on embroidery but if you have one good basic one that shows you all the stitches this can always be referred to and then if you find a particular style of work you like, then look to specific books on that technique, and there are also lots of online video tutorials out there that can be helpful if you need to see a stitch or technique in practise.

I was lucky in my conservation work to be paid to learn and practise my embroidery on various textiles and if there was a stitch I hadn’t done before I would look it up and practise it on some scrap fabric before embroidering on the actual textile. Obviously for that work I would also need to source threads that would be a suitable match to the original. So finding a good local shop that has a variety of threads is a bonus, as although you can buy much on the Net, if you need a specific colour palette the accuracy of the thread colours on the websites is not so good and you can waste a lot of money on the wrong thing. In London there is a fantastic thread and bead shop, The London Bead Company & Delicate Stitches that I would find hard to manage without.

As regards to working in film and TV, within most costume teams you find the same people work together again and again. As in life you build relationships with friends that you get along with, understand one another’s tastes and styles, so it becomes easier the longer you work together and you have a mutual trust. The costume designer is under a lot of pressure and needs a team around them who they know can pull their vision together. So you need to get a foot in the door and meet people who can get to know your abilities and skills that they can put to use. It is hard work and the days are long, a workroom day is usually a 10/12 hour day. But if something needs finishing you may have to stay up all night, so you need to have focus and stamina and be willing, able and adaptable as things tend to change as the project progresses and you have to be receptive to this.

Even if you want to do embroidery, it is still good to get experience as a runner or assistant, so that you get to see what everyone in the costume team contributes to each production and understand how things translate from the workroom to the screen. So it isn’t always easy and can be tiring, but it is fantastic to be able to work in a creative field and if you are lucky enough to work on a show such as Game of Thrones, you are being paid to experiment, sample, create and develop ideas with endless possibilities.


You Should Be Reading: Textile (Over)consumption


A series of photos published by The Guardian and entitled ‘Overpopulation, Overconsumption: In Pictures’ garnered a lot of attention this past week. Compiled into a book by the Global Population Speak Out campaign, the staggering images are stark reminders of humanity’s effect on the planet. Although none of the images feature the fashion industry or textile production in particular, I could not help but think of the burgeoning fast-fashion brands that dominate our high streets, and our increasingly disposable attitudes towards clothing. In honour of Fashion Revolution Day on April 24th, here are three articles that discuss the life cycles of fashion and textiles, and their effects on people and the environment.

1. Palmsköld, Anneli. ‘Reusing Textiles: On Material and Cultural Wear and Tear.’ Culture Unbound: Journal of Current Cultural Research 7(1): 31-43.

This article discusses contemporary practices in a Swedish context, connected to clothes and home textiles that are no longer in use, comparing them to reusing practices from the middle of the nineteenth century and onwards. The focus is on how the textiles are objects for different sorting processes in private homes as well as on a flea market, and people’s ethical concerns connected to these processes. Until the early 1970s the skills of mending, altering and patching was common knowledge, to women at least. The reusing processes were about wear and tear considerations from a material point of view. Today there are many more clothing and home textiles items in circulation, which have to be taken care of. To handle and sort textiles seems, among other things, to be about coping with different feelings connected with guilt and bad conscience. To avoid these feelings people are seeking ways of letting the textiles circulate in order to be reused by others. – Full article abstract

2. Choi, Tsan-Ming, et. al. ‘Effects of Used Garment Collection Programs in Fast-Fashion Brands.’ Sustainable Fashion Supply Chain Management, Springer Series in Supply Chain Management 1(1): 183-197. 

This research aims to investigate the fast-fashion brands’ recently implemented used garment collection (UGC) scheme. It examines the effects brought by the UGC programs on brand awareness and image building of fast-fashion companies. A convenience sampling based consumer survey is conducted for this study. The statistical results reveal that the UGC scheme offered by fast-fashion companies is correlated to brand awareness and brand image. The findings imply that fast-fashion retailers can employ the used apparel collection program as a marketing scheme to help establish their own green brand image. This measure also enhances the fast-fashion retailers’ brand positioning and their competitiveness in the market. – Full article abstract

3. Gilvin, Amanda. ‘Games of Seduction and Games of History: Alioum Moussa’s Fashion Victims in Niamey, Niger.’ African Studies Review 58(1): 55-89.

In his November 2011 solo art exhibition, Fashion Victims, held in Niamey, Niger, the Cameroonian artist Alioum Moussa launched a critique of global participation in the industrial fashion system by employing secondhand garments as his primary medium. The show had special resonance in a city attempting to cultivate both industrial and artisanal production of dress and fashion for global markets. Moussa demanded that viewers reckon with their own consumerist dress practices and potential fashion victimization in what he described as “global games of seduction,” and he offered tributes to the different “fashion victims” by inviting others to play in shared games of history. – Full article abstract

Image Credit: The True Cost, a documentary film about the impact of fashion on people and the planet, to be released May 29th.


You Should Be Watching: Dior and I

Dior and I is a new documentary film that takes the viewer behind the scenes of a couture collection at the house of Dior. After the dismissal of John Galliano as creative director in 2011, the house named Raf Simons as his replacement. Simons and his team are given the monumental task of putting together a couture collection in just eight weeks.

Director, writer and producer Frédéric Tcheng was there to film the entire process, capturing Simons and his team of seamstresses in both their most impressive and their most vulnerable moments. The result is a fashion documentary that is being hailed as one of the most realistic and honest ever created.

Dior and I: Official Trailer

Dior and I: Clips

Dior and I: Interview: Frédéric Tcheng

Lou Stoppard of SHOWstudio interviews Frédéric Tcheng, who previously worked on fashion documentaries Valentino: The Last Emperor and Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel. Stoppard and Tcheng discuss earning the trust of Simons and his team to capture the creative process, his immersion into the world of Dior, becoming emotionally attached to the Autumn/Winter 2012 collection and being pigeonholed as a fashion film director.

The film is now playing in theatres across the United States, Canada and United Kingdom, with dates in Europe and Asia to follow. Visit the film’s official website to find the showing nearest you, or to purchase and download the documentary through various online streaming services.


You Should Be Reading: Mad Men Style

As the final season of Mad Men resumed on Sunday and the Museum of the Moving Image opened their exhibition of sets, props and costumes from the show, this week I’ll present readings that analyze the fashion of Mad Men. In addition to the articles linked below, Tom Fitzgerald and Lorenzo Marquez’s blog series Mad Style is an incredibly detailed and insightful examination of character’s costumes, hair, makeup and surroundings. For those who can’t make it to MMI, “T Magazine” published images of costumes and moodboards from the exhibition captioned with quotes from the show’s costume designer, Janie Bryant. Bryant also recently spoke with Bloomberg about what she wears to work and how it’s influenced by the 1960s style of the show.

1. Gantz, Katherine. (2011). Mad Men’s Color Schemes: A Changing Palette of Working Women. Studies in Popular Culture, 33 (2), 43-58.

The author presents an examination of color in the television program “Mad Men,” focusing on how the theme of color serves to reflect the complex experience of women in the working world and how it allows them to reveal their secrets. She begins by discussing masculinity and male discourse and goes on to examine clothing colors, particularly as worn by the character of Joan, and how these relate to the social status of women in the workplace. – Full Article Abstract

2. Hamilton, Caroline. (2012). Seeing the World Second Hand: Mad Men and the Vintage Consumer. Cultural Studies Review, 18 (2), 223-241.

An essay is presented on the notion of vintage in the contemporary consumption of audiences of the American Movie Classics Co.’s (AMC) television series “Mad Men.” It examines the notion of vintage consumerism as an aesthetic as well as a category of contemporary consumption reflected in the appreciation and unexpected excitement of audiences. It also cites that ability of “Mad Men” to generate consumer heat through using historical artefacts to reinforce an ephemeral present. – Full Article Abstract

3. Goodlad, Lauren, Lilya Kaganovsky and Robert A. Rushing, eds. (2013). Mad Men, Mad World: Sex, Politics, Style, and the 1960s. Durham: Duke University Press.

Since the show’s debut in 2007, Mad Men has invited viewers to immerse themselves in the lush period settings, ruthless Madison Avenue advertising culture, and arresting characters at the center of its 1960s fictional world. Mad Men, Mad World is a comprehensive analysis of this groundbreaking TV series. Scholars from across the humanities consider the AMC drama from a fascinating array of perspectives, including fashion, history, architecture, civil rights, feminism, consumerism, art, cinema, and the serial format, as well as through theoretical frames such as critical race theory, gender, queer theory, global studies, and psychoanalysis. – Excerpt from Publisher


You Should Be Reading: Fashion Blogging and Vlogging


1. Titton, Monica. ‘Fashionable Personae: Self-Identity and Enactments of Fashion Narratives in Fashion Blogs.’ Fashion Theory 19(2), 201-220.

This article scrutinizes the practices and strategies mobilized by fashion bloggers in the construction of a subject position which is embedded in established fashion narratives and based on references to the self and self-representation. Fashion blogs are discussed as cultural artifacts which revolve around reflexive identity politics in contention with embodied techniques of self-fashioning and dress practices. Fashion bloggers produce fashion media partly based on the enactment of their own self-identity in relation to dress practices and on their incorporation of knowledge of fashion media and pop culture imagery. Because of this oscillation between individual dress practices and collective fashion narratives, fashion blogs raise issues about the way in which fashion media relate to self-identity. Based on empirical research with qualitative methods using a grounded theory approach, this article discusses a construct of subjectivity labeled as “fashionable persona.” The “fashionable persona” is understood as a situated, narrative, and performative character developed by bloggers specifically for their blogs that is anchored simultaneously in the blogger’s self-identity and in the enactment of collective cultural narratives. Three dimensions in the enactment and construction of “fashionable personae” are discussed: the discursive construction, the bodily enactment, and the self-actualization of fashion bloggers as economic subjects. – Full Article Abstract

2. Findlay, Rosie. ‘The Short, Passionate, and Close-Knit History of Personal Style Blogging.’ Fashion Theory 19(2), 157-178.

Most media histories of style blogging commence their narrative in 2009, at the moment when a select few fashion and personal style bloggers were invited to sit front row at a number of shows on the Spring/Summer Ready-to-Wear “Fashion Month” schedule. Yet that moment, symbolic of the “arrival” of fashion bloggers in the industry (albeit a partial and contested one), was precipitated by years of fashion blogging. This developmental period has not yet been mapped. This article, then, presents a historical narrative tracing the development of personal style blogging through the archive. It engages with the earliest independent fashion blogs (which predated distinct subgenres of fashion blogging) to map how they, along with early digital and print media, influenced and led to the emergence of personal style blogging as a distinct subgenre of the wider fashion blogosphere. I draw on oral history from bloggers as well as the archives of their (and other) blogs, as well as the digital archive of early fashion websites, online articles, and blogposts from current style blogs. I also draw on prior studies of personal style blogging by Rocamora and Luvaas, among others, as well as work by Lévi-Strauss and Butler, to contextualize this discussion. – Full Article Abstract

3. Christofer, Pihl. ‘Brands, Community and Style: Exploring Linking Value in Fashion Blogging.’ Journal of Fashion Marketing and Management 18(1), 3-19.

By using the concept of style, the purpose of this paper is to elaborate on the notion of brand community. More specifically, it seeks to explore how style can function as a linking value in forms of communities centred on brands that emerge within the empirical context of fashion and social media. A netnography of the content produced by 18 fashion bloggers in Sweden was conducted. Content analysis of this material was used to map how consumption objects, in terms of fashion brands, were integrated in activities taking place on blogs, and through these processes, acted as a linking value for community members. This paper demonstrates how fashion bloggers, together with their readers, constitute a form of community centred on style. It also shows how fashion bloggers, by combining and assembling fashion brands and products, articulate and express different style sets, and how they, together with their followers, engage in activities connected to these style ideals. As this study has been empirically limited to a Swedish setting, future research would benefit from findings of international expressions of communities of style. Based on this study, strategies for managing communities of style is suggested to represent a potential source of competitive advantage for fashion firms. In the context of the conceptual discussion about what brings members of communities together, this study provides evidence of how style can function as a linking value in the setting of consumer communities that emerge within the boundaries of fashion and social media. – Full Article Abstract

See also: i-D Magazine’s recent series How the Internet Changed Fashion featuring interviews with some of today’s most popular fashion vloggers, as well as longer think pieces exploring the influence of vlogging and social media on fashion.

Image Credit: GirlTalkHQ


From the Archives: The Great British Sewing Bee

Due to a bout of spring flu, here is my post from this time last year discussing the BBC’s The Great British Sewing Bee, which had then completed its second season.  The third season has just come to a close so it’s a nice time to reflect back!

‘I watched Bake Off and couldn’t believe how upset people got,’ Chinelo says. ‘Now I totally understand. At one point I couldn’t even thread a needle, my hands were shaking so much.’[1]

The statement above was made by Chinello, one of ten contestants taking part in a BBC television programme called The Great British Sewing Bee, currently on air here in the UK.  This second series succeeds the first in both size and grandeur.  While the first was set over four episodes and located in a Georgian building in the heart of Dalston, East London, this one contains eight episodes and places more contestants in a lofty but grander converted warehouse by the Thames, offering everyone panoramic views of the capital city at the front while at the back, there is an extensive, well stocked haberdashery at their disposal.

The Great British Sewing Bee invites the participants to take part in weekly sewing challenges, which finds them spending two days completing three tasks: make a basic pattern, customize a piece of ready made clothing and finally making their own pattern, which must fit to a live model.  Their efforts are judged not by an audience vote but by two authoritative figures, who in this case are a Woman’s Institute sewing teacher with more than forty years of experience teaching and a director of a successful tailoring company located in Savile Row, London.  A television host, whose fundamental role is to mediate between the novice participants and the expert judges on behalf of the viewer, also joins them.

Contestants on The Great British Sewing Bee, Series 2

Each week, the two judges decide which contestant must leave the competition, based upon their performance across the three set challenges.  The most concise and in-depth review of the programme can be found in The Daily Telegraph, where Kate Bussman highlights how the nature of television production creates much tension for the contestants as they are constantly required to stop their sewing for ongoing sound bites, camera shots and set pieces.

For me, the most interesting contestant in The Great British Sewing Bee is Chinello, a twenty-six year old dressmaker who does not use paper patterns, having learnt to cut forms directly onto the cloth.  Chinello’s approach to clothesmaking is riveting because she engages with fabric directly, choosing not to mediate the process with the use of representational tools such as paper patterns.  Her process involves thinking and working with design in a very three-dimensional way; Chinello is like a living, breathing 3D printer.

The setting for the series is an old Thameside warehouse, seen here in the background while Chinello, one of the contestants, is cutting out her pattern in the foreground.

Another fascinating part of the programme is the way in which the historical context and social commentary about dress is approached.  Every week there is a theme explored, which might be a particular era or the type of material being used in the sewing challenges, such as stretchy fabric or patterned textiles.  The television host then engages with a range of scholars and academics to discuss interesting aspects of that weekly theme.  This part is fascinating because they draw upon a range of scholarly disciplines, from anthropology to consumption studies to performance and fashion, in an effort to contextualise the weekly challenges set for the contestants.

Prof. Giorgio Riello, Textile Historian, who discusses the advent of chintz and printed cottons in the 18th century

The Great British Sewing Bee provides us with a contemporary snapshot of academic interest in fashion, dress and textile studies. Craik’s (2009:264) identification of five types of fashion writing – language of fashion, fashion reportage, promotional writing, critical writing and intellectual analysis – makes no mention of the representation of these studies within the media of television yet it seems that in this one programme, there is visual evidence of all types of fashion writing taking place.[2]

My interest in fashion and dress television programmes, particularly with a focus on historical context and cultural commentary, has its roots in a childhood spent avidly watching The Clothes Show each week.  The Clothes Show was this unique mix of contemporary affairs and intellectual discussion about fashion and dress but whose content has now been taken over by the internet or reality television programmes that concentrate on how to improve the individual identities of ordinary people through fashion and dress.  These would include Trinny and Susannah’s What Not to Wear, How to Look 10 Years Younger or Gok Wan’s How to Look Naked, to name but a few of a growing genre focused upon the daily anxiety of colloquial dress.

While the Great British Sewing Bee has a lineage that certainly relates it to reality television programmes (its sister production is The Great British Bake Off), it does go some way to filling the gap left by the likes of The Clothes Show with its efforts to discuss and inform the viewer about the wider scholarly interest in fashion and dress.  In future, it could be part of a small archive of British television programmes that focus on fashion and dress history, perhaps beginning with Doris Langley-Moore’s What We Wore in 1957.  I would be very grateful to hear of reading suggestions on the subject of historical dress and its representation through the medium of television.  With the increasing complexity of internet coverage, it seems there is still a place for television to capture our attention with contextual discussion of dress and fashion for longer than just a brief click.  Research into how this is done, with particular reference to the second half of the 20th century, is definitely worth further consideration.

[1] [Accessed 10 March 2014]

[2] Jennifer Craik (2009) Fashion: The Key Concepts Oxford, Berg


You Should Be Watching: Fashion Documentaries on Netflix

While a subscription to Netflix can often be the most tempting way to procrastinate or lose an entire weekend to a newly-discovered television series, it also has a comprehensive list of documentaries available, many of which feature or relate to the world of fashion. The following documentaries are all available for streaming on the American Netflix website, and many are also available on the UK and Canadian versions of the service – just be sure not to login if you have an essay deadline looming or a mountain of assignments to mark!


1. Bill Cunningham New York (2011)

‘Photographer Bill Cunningham tirelessly records what people are wearing in New York City — both out on the sidewalk and in the salons of the wealthy.’ For decades Bill Cunningham has chronicled the style of the city for the New York Times, and this charming documentary takes the viewer into the photographer’s professional and personal worlds, from the offices of the newspaper to his own apartment in Carnegie Hall. Cunningham’s ascetic lifestyle contrasts sharply with the street style peacocks and high society Manhattanites he often photographs, causing the viewer to both appreciate and question their own relationship with fashion.


2. Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel (2011)

‘This intimate and loving portrait of the legendary arbiter of fashion, art and culture illustrates the many stages of Vreeland’s remarkable life.’ A biographical documentary of Diana Vreeland, whose influence on fashion began with her iconic ‘Why Don’t You…’ column at Harper’s Bazaar, and continued through her years as editor-in-chief of Vogue and later consultant for the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Featuring interviews with Vreeland’s contemporaries, including photographers, models and fellow editors, this stylish documentary is a must-see for all twentieth century fashion historians.


3. Advanced Style (2014)

‘This documentary profiles seven stylish New York City seniors who disprove the notion that advanced years and glamour are mutually exclusive.’ Originating from the blog and book created by Ari Seth Cohen, Advanced Style features several of the blog’s most photographed older ladies, interviewed by Cohen and sharing their views on everything from life, marriage and aging, to handbags and hair colour. A delightful documentary that challenges stereotypes on aging and older women, best viewed after reading our selection of articles on Fashion and Age.

Other fashion-related documentaries:

Chasing Beauty (2013)

Mademoiselle C (2013)

Paul Smith: Gentleman Designer (2012)

Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf’s (2013)

The Director (2013)

Unzipped (1995)

Ultrasuede: In Search of Halston (2010)



Punk Style at Cornell

punk style

I’d like to let Worn Through readers know TODAY I’ll be doing a talk regarding my research into punk and subcultural style at Cornell on Thursday March 12. The talk is entitled “Punk style: The potency of subcultural dress in design, consumption, and communication.”

Here is the abstract:

The study of subcultural dress features pertinent concepts including design, consumption, identity, and communication. The book Punk Style (2014) examines the dress of one of the most varied, sustaining and influential subcultures. Comprehensive research chronicled a historical overview of punk style, as well as evaluated motivations behind dress practices and the link between subcultural style and the fashion industry. Punk is often a trend innovator with its design ideas moving into the mainstream, as exemplified by the prevalence of body modification and deconstructed garments within the mass market. Subcultural styles and the mainstream routinely intersect as visuals such as punk dress continue to grow through the Internet and youth purchasing power. The workplace is one example of a contemporary context that can be reviewed regarding its relationship with subcultural dress. The iconography of punk often contrasts with typical work dress and research highlighted the shifting appearances of individuals between work and non-work identities. Frequently they are repurposing items of dress for identity expression and increasingly diverse workplaces. Punk is a highly visible example of how the negotiation of form, viewer, and context is in constant motion, and how subcultural dress delves into numerous aspects of fashion scholarship.

My talk is part of an ongoing lecture series. If you’re unaware, Cornell has a large department related to fashion and fiber studies.

If you are in the area of Ithaca, please come by!

MARCH 12, 2015
12:20 – 1:10pm
G87 Martha Van Rensselaer Hall
Cornell University
Free and open to the public


You Should Be Reading: Seventies Fashion


To demonstrate the radical disruption of fashion that emerged with the late 1960s, early 1970s counterculture, my fashion history professor presented side-by-side photos of Yves Saint Laurent, above. On the left, it’s 1957, and Saint Laurent has just succeeded Christian Dior as head designer after Dior’s untimely death; on the right, it’s 1971, and Saint Laurent is releasing his first men’s fragrance, Pour Homme. This is how one man changed in a little over a decade, from neatly combed hair to long, feathered hair, and from an impeccable suit to–nothing. This form of anti-fashion rejected cleanliness, neatness and order so vehemently that what remained were bedspreads and body paint. My favorite reference for this lawless era of twentieth century fashion is Life’s August 1969 Woodstock issue, which is available in full on Google Books. If you’re lusting over the flowing skirts, bell-bottoms, suede, fringe and blanket-wraps of this spring’s latest revival of the 1969 look, consider the articles linked below, which discuss past periods of 1970s revivalism, the “Schizophrenic Seventies,” and the origin of the “natural look.”  

1. Gregson, Nicky, Kate Brooks, and Louise Crewe. (2001). Bjorn Again? Rethinking 70s Revivalism through the Reappropriation of 70s Clothing. Fashion Theory: The Journal Of Dress, Body & Culture, 5 (1), 3-27.

The article is concerned with the complexities of 70s retro fashion in Britain, specifically with understanding the ways in which 70s fashion has been reappropriated and worn anew in the late 90s and the early twenty-first century. It examines the discourses and dispositions that shape the consumption of these fashions and, more generally, with what these have to contribute to debates about 70s revivalism. The argument is based on the identification and analysis of the various discourses and dispositions people deploy around 70s retro fashion; how they wear this, how they talk about it, and the meanings they ascribe to the practices of their consumption. The article shows that this involves reappropriation rather than nostalgia, fun and laughter, and the mobilization of cultural capital through multifarious displays of knowingness. It is argued that there are two main modes of appropriate appreciation around original 70s clothing: “the carnivalesque” and “knowingness”. These are each discussed in depth, and the article concludes by discussing what this understanding of 70s retro fashion has to contribute to the general debate about 70s revivalism. – Full Article Abstract

2. Steele, V. (1997). Anti-Fashion: The 1970s. Fashion Theory: The Journal Of Dress, Body & Culture, 1 (3), 279-295.

Following the 1960s fashion revolution, 1970s style was pulled in radically different directions because people disagreed about where fashion should go. Georgina Howell in In Vogue termed it “The Schizophrenic Seventies”. The article questions this term, and looks to demonstrate that there was some deeper cultural unity beneath the chaotic clash of styles. Steele contends that during the 1970s fashion was not in fashion, and as a result fashion journalists adopted a new language of freedom and choice. A narcissism and self-indulgence seemed to characterize contemporary society, and the cultural radicalism of the 1960s diffused throughout the wider society. – Full Article Abstract

3. Welters, L. (2008). The Natural Look: American Style in the 1970s. Fashion Theory: The Journal Of Dress, Body & Culture12 (4), 489-510.

The natural look was a trend of the 1970s that emphasized a natural appearance in hair, clothing, makeup, and accessories. The natural look arose from antagonisms in several oppositional cultures at different times, each involving a rejection of mainstream fashion. The natural look is divided into six categories: Natural Body, Natural Hair and Cosmetics, Natural Materials, Handcrafted Clothing and Accessories, and “Nature” Sells Fashion. This article examines the sites of opposition that led to the natural look, the manifestation of “natural” in fashion, and its lasting effect on fashion and appearance into the twenty-first century. – Full Article Abstract

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Punk Style at Cornell

punk style

I’d like to let Worn Through readers know I’ll be doing a talk regarding my research into punk and subcultural style at Cornell on Thursday March 12. The talk is entitled “Punk style: The potency of subcultural dress in design, consumption, and communication.”

Here is the abstract:

The study of subcultural dress features pertinent concepts including design, consumption, identity, and communication. The book Punk Style (2014) examines the dress of one of the most varied, sustaining and influential subcultures. Comprehensive research chronicled a historical overview of punk style, as well as evaluated motivations behind dress practices and the link between subcultural style and the fashion industry. Punk is often a trend innovator with its design ideas moving into the mainstream, as exemplified by the prevalence of body modification and deconstructed garments within the mass market. Subcultural styles and the mainstream routinely intersect as visuals such as punk dress continue to grow through the Internet and youth purchasing power. The workplace is one example of a contemporary context that can be reviewed regarding its relationship with subcultural dress. The iconography of punk often contrasts with typical work dress and research highlighted the shifting appearances of individuals between work and non-work identities. Frequently they are repurposing items of dress for identity expression and increasingly diverse workplaces. Punk is a highly visible example of how the negotiation of form, viewer, and context is in constant motion, and how subcultural dress delves into numerous aspects of fashion scholarship.

My talk is part of an ongoing lecture series. If you’re unaware, Cornell has a large department related to fashion and fiber studies.

If you are in the area of Ithaca, please come by!

MARCH 12, 2015
12:20 – 1:10pm
G87 Martha Van Rensselaer Hall
Cornell University
Free and open to the public