COP26: A Sobering Message for the Fashion Industry and its Consumers

Inside COP26 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, Getty Images.

As I dressed for an exceptionally cold day in London this morning, I took the time to read the label inside the jumper that would keep me warm for the day ahead. The care label read:

 

Made in China

42% Cotton

26% Acrylic

25% Polyamide

4% Wool

3% Elastane

Handwash at 30 degrees

Do not tumble-dry

 

I’m ashamed to say that it was the first time I read such a label and considered what it really meant, besides how to wash my beloved cosy jumper without shrinking it. Many questions came to mind. Where in China was it made? Who worked the sewing machine that put it together? How old were they? How much were they paid? What were the conditions of the factory in which it was made? Where did all these raw materials come from? And how did it travel from China to the UK? The questions go on and on.

These were just some of the questions explored last week in Glasgow at COP26, the United Nations Climate Change Conference. Countries present at the conference, and their industries, were expected to ‘show up with something to offer’ to the global pursuit of combatting the climate crisis (Rachel Cernansky, 2021). The fashion industry was not exempt from scrutiny. During the week, the UN Fashion Charter updated their climate commitment, with an aim to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2030. British fashion houses (including Stella McCartney and Burberry, among high-street labels like H&M) participated in talks and shows to signal their allegiance to the cause. However, with the latest national pledges only estimated to achieve one-seventh of emissions cuts necessary, we must ask not only if brands are doing enough, but ourselves as consumers.

 

Image from the Fashion Revolution Instagram page (@fash_rev). Caption: Polyester = plastic = oil. But fossil fuels are part of our wardrobes even if there aren’t synthetics on the label. 27 October 2021.

Posters carried by attendees of the Climate Conference read: ‘Who Made My Clothes?’ and ‘What’s in My Clothes?’. These are the slogans of Fashion Revolution, a non-profit organisation and global movement that participated in discussions at COP26. The Fashion Revolution Manifesto calls for an environmentally sustainable and ethical fashion industry; dignified work, equal and fair pay, and conservation and restoration of the environment are just some of their global aims. Ciara Barry, Policy and Research Coordinator at Fashion Revolution, remarked that the organisation was ‘disappointed that fashion isn’t further up the agenda’ of discussions surrounding the climate crisis. Fashion Revolution reported that if fashion were a nation state, it would be the seventh-largest in the world, showing the magnitude of the industry and its contributions to global pollution. The global industry was in fact responsible for about 4% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in 2018, which is ‘comparable to the combined emissions of France, Germany and the UK’ (Madeline Speed, 2021).

In their panel discussion with questions from Scarlett Conlon of The Guardian at COP26, Fashion Revolution reminded members of the conference that these environmental issues are never divorced from ethical consequences. It was noted that ‘the global north is responsible for 92% of emissions while the global south bears the burden of harm’. Factory flooding, the pollution to local water sources, and – in the case of the 2013 Dhaka factory collapse in Bangladesh – disastrous damage to industrial regions is all too common in the areas that mass-produce garments for the global north. It is not the responsibility of workers to address these issues, but the ‘brands and retailers who must take a more active role in addressing these risks’. More than this, it is our responsibility as consumers to rethink our overconsumption of fast fashion goods which encourages overproduction, and inevitably leads to these dangerous worker conditions. Fashion Revolution prompt us, not only at COP26 but in their widespread campaigning for economic and social justice in fashion, that we consumers must rethink our out of sight, out of mind approach to fashion.

 

After the Rana Plaza collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh, April 2013. Getty Images.

So, what can we do to rethink our consumption of fashion and combat these environmental and social issues? One place to start is addressing our relationship with fashion in social media, which largely feeds into our desire to consume more and more without considering the unseen consequences. In recent years especially, popular trend videos on platforms like Tik Tok and Instagram have encouraged ‘haul videos’ from high-street brands, where consumers show off their latest purchases. The garments in these ‘hauls’ usually fall into the ‘micro-trend’ category; made at a speedy rate to be enjoyed for the season, and probably discarded afterwards. Likewise, in the run-up to ‘Black Friday’ sales happening next week, many retailers engage in the social media frenzy of promising heavily discounted prices for end-of-season stock, which only encourages further overproduction at the beginning of the season. By taking the time to think about what garments we really need, rather than buying for the sake of buying, we can begin to curb the thoughtless shopping habits which lead to dangerous working environments and environmental pollution overseas. Fashion Revolution’s Fashion Transparency Index is also a useful tool for consumers to research further into their favourite brands, with a breakdown of their sustainability in terms of shipping and raw materials, and socio-economic issues like worker wages and conditions.

COP26 brought a sobering message for the fashion industry, but it is also one of hopeful ambition towards the future. Indeed, brands must be held accountable for the environmental and ethical oversights of their suppliers, but it is we as consumers who must change our outlook on our speedy and thoughtless consumption of garments. If action is taken now, we might contribute to a future of fashion which is sustainable, ethical and considerate. Now is the time to ask: ‘Who Made My Clothes?’ and ‘What’s in My Clothes?’

 

The Fashion Transparency Index for 2021 by Fashion Revolution can be downloaded following this link: https://www.fashionrevolution.org/about/transparency/

Fashion Revolution Instagram handle: @fash_rev

 

By Erin-Atlanta Argun

 

References:

Barry, Ciara. Fashion Revolution at COP26, 15 November 2021.

Cernansky, Rachel. ‘What Fashion Should Expect at COP26’. Vogue Business, 28 October 2021. https://www.voguebusiness.com/sustainability/what-fashion-should-expect-at-cop26.

Chan, Emily. ‘How Fashion Is Ramping Up Its Climate Efforts At Cop26’. Vogue, 9 November 2021. https://www.vogue.co.uk/fashion/article/un-fashion-charter-cop26.

Conlon, Scarlett, and Fashion Revolution. COP26: Questions from Scarlett Conlon at the Guardian, 2021.

Entwistle, Joanne. ‘The Fashion Industry’. In The Fashioned Body: Fashion, Dress and Modern Social Theory. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000.

Fashion Revolution. ‘COP26: Why Fashion Needs a Seat at the Table’, November 2021. https://www.fashionrevolution.org/cop26-why-fashion-needs-a-seat-at-the-table/.

Godley, Andrew, Anna Kersher, and Raphael Schapiro. ‘Fashion and Its Impact on the Economic Development of London’s East End Womenswear Industry, 1929–62: The Case of Ellis and Goldstein’. Textile History 34, no. 2 (November 2003).

Speed, Madeline. ‘Fashion Industry to Miss Emissions Target despite COP26 Pledge’. Financial Times, 9 November 2021. https://www.ft.com/content/92d64022-415c-4fa2-93a7-bc277c417544.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 By Claudia Stanley

 

 

Sources:

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Performing Gender Through Costume in the Takarazuka Revue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Megan Stevenson

 

Sources:

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

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

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

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

The Gucci Love Parade…

On November 2 2021, the Gucci Love Parade took over Hollywood Boulevard. The show drew on Creative Director Alessandro Michele’s childhood and paid homage to the glamour of Old Hollywood. Michele’s mother worked in the film industry, and it was the stories that she told him that acted as an escape for Michele. This infatuation lasted throughout adulthood with Michele stating that:

“Hollywood is… a Greek temple…actors and actresses are acknowledged as heroes of the myth: hybrid creatures with the power to hold divine transcendence and mortal existence at the same time”.

Journalist Nicole Phelps also notes how Michele’s Love Parade “absorbed all manner of Hollywood tropes” from Old Hollywood glamour to more everyday looks too.

Let’s look at some of the favourites…

Elizabeth Taylor, ranked seventh in the list of the greatest female screen legends in Hollywood Cinema, is perhaps best known for her eponymous role of Cleopatra in the 1963 Walter Wanger film.

 

Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 film Cleopatra

 

Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 film Cleopatra

 

Elizabeth Taylor in the 1963 film Cleopatra

Gucci’s pre-fall’22 collection featured this inspired look:

Gucci Love Parade, 2 November 2021. Source: Vogue Runway

Another cult classic film is featured in the form of the 1976 rendition of Stephen King’s Carrie. The title role was played by Sissy Spacek, who won an Academy Award for Best Actress.

Sissy Spacek in the 1976 film Carrie

 

Sissy Spacek in the 1976 film Carrie

 

Sissy Spacek in the 1976 film Carrie

Gucci Love Parade:

Gucci Love Parade, 2 November 2021. Source: Vogue Runway

And finally, we have a reference to Anna May Wong’s Tu Tuan in the 1934 film Limehouse Blues. Wong is an important figure in Hollywood as she is considered to be the first Chinese-American movie star.

Anna May Wong in the 1934 film Limehouse Blues

 

Anna May Wong in the 1934 film Limehouse Blues

 

Anna May Wong in the 1934 film Limehouse Blues

Gucci Love Parade:

Gucci Love Parade, 2 November 2021. Source: Vogue Runway

So, what do you think? Do you think Gucci successfully paid homage to some of the most iconic Hollywood fashion moments and the starlets that wore them? Or do you think they verge too much on Halloween costumes for a November 2nd show?

 

By Rosie Dyer

 

Sources:

 

https://fashionista.com/2021/11/gucci-spring-2022-collection

 

https://www.harpersbazaar.com/fashion/fashion-week/a38148413/gucci-love-parade/

 

https://www.gucci.com/uk/en_gb/st/stories/runway/article/love-parade-fashion-show-looks-gallery

 

https://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/spring-2022-ready-to-wear/gucci

 

https://www.afi.com/afis-100-years-100-stars/

 

https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/anna-may-wong

The Spectacle of Fashion

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Two attendees at the Rothschild Surrealist Ball, 1972.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

By Georgina Johnston-Watt

 

Sources:

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Pampooties and Brogues: A Folkloric History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Victoria Fitzgerald

 

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

In Conversation with Dr. Rebecca Arnold…

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview by Ipek Birgul Kozanoglu

2021/22 Introduction!

A new academic year and a new group of brilliant bloggers – welcome Rosie, Megan, Victoria, Ipek, Claudia, Erin and Georgina!

While Rebecca Arnold is working hard on her latest book, I’m teaching the Documenting Fashion course. I graduated from the Courtauld History of Art MA in 2005 and it’s a joy to be back! As well as lecturing, I write on fashion and photography and curate exhibitions – most recently Tim Walker: Wonderful Things at the V&A, London, and The Photographic Art of George Hoyningen-Huene at Grisebach, Berlin.

Term began just a few weeks ago and we’ve explored so much already. Highlights so far include a visit to James Barnor’s exhibition at the Serpentine Gallery, and a morning with the rare fashion sketches and magazines from the Courtauld Library’s special collections. There are lots of fantastic blog posts to come this term, so please stay tuned!

— Susanna Brown

Goodbye For Now!

Every group is special. Every year has its own particular character.  But the academic year 2020-21 was a year like no other… and this year’s MA Documenting Fashion students proved their intelligence, resourcefulness and grace during lockdowns, restrictions and global uncertainties.

I want to congratulate all of you for everything you’ve achieved – for the inspiring seminar discussions, sparkling presentations and thoughtful essays. For your imaginative searches for evidence and resources, the brilliant visual analysis and innovative ideas expressed in your Virtual Exhibitions and Dissertations, all the blog posts and, of course, the truly amazing costumes for our zoom parties.

Well done Violet, Kathryn, Ruby, Simona, Alexandra, Genevieve, Lucy and Bethan. It has been an honour to teach you and to spend this weird and difficult year in the company of such brilliant young dress historians.

Happiness and success to you all, I look forward to seeing what the future holds for you – I know that each of you will continue to shine.

Rebecca.

P.s. extra thanks to Simona and Ruby for acting as the blog’s Editors-in-chief during the autumn term, and to Kathryn and Lucy for taking on this role in spring and summer. You all did such a great job!

P.p.s. the Documenting Fashion blog will return in October, with posts by the new 2021-22 group of students…

5 Minutes With… Violet Caldecott

As it nears the end of term, we’re spending some time getting to know the current MA Documenting Fashion students. Violet discusses James Barnor, the Swinging Sixties, and photography as a means of resistance.

What is your dissertation about?

I wrote my dissertation on British-Ghanaian photographer James Barnor and his capturing of Black Britain in the 1960s. I first came across his work in February when I saw his image Wedding Guests (below) on Pinterest. I was struck by the innate poise of the two female subjects, who in their meticulous attire and polished appearance, are the epitome of 1960s cosmopolitan glamour. I love the quietly revolutionary quality of his images. Whilst they are not politically or racially charged on the surface, in their depiction of everyday people, posing amongst the streets of London, they would have proved extremely powerful in both contemporary and post-colonial contexts. There is a retrospective of his work on at the Serpentine Gallery at the moment. Very fortuitously, it opened two weeks before my dissertation was due. It was incredibly exciting to see his images in the flesh. The show has been really beautifully curated, illuminating the multi-dimensionality of Barnor’s work through a diverse range of images from his six-decade career.

James Barnor, Wedding Guests, London, 1960, Photograph © Autograph ABP 

Who is your favourite designer?

Ossie Clark. I love the elegant cut, drape and flow of his pieces. Born in Liverpool in 1942, Clark quickly became known as a pioneer of London’s Swinging Sixties cultural revolution.  His designs offered a more romantic alternative to Mary Quant’s short hemlines, block colours and geometric prints. I came across a silk co-ord designed by him in a vintage boutique on the Portobello Road a couple of weeks ago. Consisting of a pair of billowing high-waisted trousers and a short-sleeved Peter Pan collar top, cinched in by a silk sash at the waist, it is my dream ensemble. The cut and fit are far superior to any item of clothing that I have ever worn. Perfectly proportioned and meticulously tailored around the waist and shoulders, I feel as if it was made for me. Clark really understood the female form. My dream is to become a collector of his pieces.

Ossie Clark with Gala Mitchell c. 1960s, Ossie Clark with Judy Guy Johnson and Patti Boyd c. 1960s, accessed via AnOther Magazine

Favourite dress history photograph?

This is a tough question as I have so many. But with regard to dress, the image which I find myself coming back to is the photograph Neil Kenlock took of Olive Morris in 1973. Morris was a political activist and community leader, known for the part she played in the Squatters Movement and her founding of the Brixton Black Women’s Group in 1973. Very sadly, she died aged 27, but in her short life, she achieved an incredible amount. In this image, there is a real sense of her presence as an individual. In faux jacket, worn jeans and assortment of bangles, she appears confident and at ease. It possesses a snapshot quality with the viewer a voyeur looking in at an intimate moment in this remarkable woman’s life. She smokes a cigarette as she huddles by the electric radiator to keep warm. It seems like there is an interaction between her and Kenlock as she beams leaning slightly towards the camera. I love the idea of photography being a collaborative venture between the subject and photographer, with the viewer is privy to the intimacy of their relationship.

Neil Kenlock, Olive Morris, London, 1973, Photograph © National Portrait Gallery, London 

What is your favourite thing that you’ve written/worked on/researched this year?

In the first semester, I was introduced to the concept of photography as a means of resistance, and within this, the role clothing has played as a means to self-fashioning identities for oppressed groups within society. This fuelled an interest in Stuart Hall’s ‘politics of representation’ which I have applied to different periods and in varying contexts throughout the year. My first essay was on Harlem Renaissance portraiture and how the representational power of the genre was harnessed by various artists of the period to illuminate the complexity and multi-dimensionality of being African American at this time. I was particularly drawn to James VanDerZee’s studio portraits of glamorous young Harmelites. Posing in elegant 1920s clothing against elaborate backdrops, they drew together the different fragments of their diasporic identity in one visual narrative. I’m fascinated by the concept of the tiniest sartorial details having the most significant meaning to the individual and how this can translate to the outside eye.

James VanDerZee, Couple, Harlem, 1932 © Museum of Modern Art, New York

 
Sources
Carol Tulloch, The Birth of Cool (London: Bloomsbury) 2016
 
https://www.anothermag.com/fashion-beauty/8992/the-fabulous-femininity-of-ossie-clark
 
https://aperture.org/editorial/how-james-barnors-photographs-became-symbols-of-black-glamour/
https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/30/obituaries/olive-morris-overlooked.html