Miniskirts and Mods: A Review of the Mary Quant Retrospective

Museum exhibition, two mannequins wearing raincoats

Rainwear display, Mary Quant Retrospective, V&A, 2019. (all photos taken by Ali)

Mary Quant brought fun to fashion during the postwar era, a time when clothing rationing had just ended and Christian Dior was strangling women’s waistlines. Quant’s shop Bazaar was the headquarters of the Swinging Sixties, where one could buy miniskirts, neon tights, and psychedelic blouses. She wanted women to have fun again; her miniskirts liberated legs and allowed for dancing and her waterproof mascara held up in a walk through the rain. The V&A’s retrospective of Quant’s work takes viewers chronologically through her career, starting with her unassuming, yet innovative designs of the late 1950s and ending with a showcase of her global brand which produced cosmetics, lingerie, accessories. Although somewhat lacking in imagination, the exhibition proves that Quant’s designs allowed all kinds of women, not just wealthy ones, to incorporate imaginative designs into their wardrobes.

When you enter the exhibition, it’s not a blatantly colorful exhibition about the 1960s mod culture, but it is rather a slow burn that lingers on Quant’s somewhat conservative early designs. Meandering through a display of glass cases, we see that Quant slowly deconstructed fashion rules that existed in the 1950s. Quant did this carefully, as innocent wool pinafores and thick coat jackets with bright patterns dominate the first half of the exhibition. She started to create revolutionary designs by incorporating masculine traits into her fashions. Her use of ties and more shockingly trousers, are a signal of her journey into a completely new style.

Museum vitrine with three mannequins dressed in Mary Quant dresses and coats

Early Mary Quant Designs, Mary Quant Retrospective, V&A, 2019.

The second floor more clearly conveys the fun and light-heartedness one might expect of Quant’s mod designs. Set in a brightly-lit, white arena, Quant’s brightly colored designs pop and are strikingly contemporary. Glittering tartans, pinstriped raincoats, and crocheted frocks prove not only Quant’s talent in working with many fabrics and techniques, but also her seemingly endless creativity. I found myself making a mental-shopping list of what items I would happily wear on a daily basis (a pink sailor dress and monochrome PVC clutch, please). I could hear people of all ages around me doing something similar, proving Quant’s ability to make her clothes universally attractive by combining comfortability and bold patterns.

Five mannequins in museum wearing mini skirt dresses

Iterations of the miniskirt, Mary Quant Retrospective, V&A, 2019.

There is a clear attempt throughout the show to breathe life into these clothes, many of which are paralyzed by rigid mannequins. The majority of outfits had an accompanying text panel that explained who owned the garment, why they chose it, and how they wore it. There were also numerous photographs behind the outfits, showing how models or regular women moved and posed in Quant’s clothes. These curatorial efforts suggest that these clothes were not designed to be shown on stiff mannequins, but were designed for walking, skipping, and dancing. Some mannequins strike outlandish poses, but there is an overall dullness that hangs over the exhibition, particularly on the dimly-lit first floor of the two-story exhibition. Quant’s shop Bazaar on King’s Road was known for creating psychedelic, dreamlike tableaus, but this kind of eccentric experimentation and creativity seems absent from the exhibition design. Perhaps I was too optimistic in hoping to see a recreation of one these infamous store front designs behind one of the many glass cases.

The focus on the exhibition is not an experiential recreation of the quirkiness of the 1960s, but a focus on how actual women wore Quant’s designs. At the center of the upstairs display is a giant rounded screen that scrolls through pictures from the 1960s and 1970s of women wearing Quant’s designs. Quotes from these women describe how they wore their Quant pieces and how much they treasure them. In fact, a large portion of clothes in the exhibition were collected from regular women all over the world. The home photos show mothers, working women, brides, and young girls wearing Quant’s clothes and giving them life. This curatorial decision embraces the sacred relationship between designer and customer with the clothing as a bridge between them. Ultimately, this show is really about how Quant democratized the postwar London fashion scene, allowing middle-class women to take part in the exciting and eccentric innovations of mod culture.

Pearls

Spring/Summer 2019 saw pearl earrings explode off the catwalk and onto the ears of many a fashion blogger on our instagram feeds. Large, irregular and often inlaid with semi-precious stones in surrealist settings, these pseudo-baroque creations are the latest take on the statement jewellery trend. No longer a revered hand-me-down from your grandmother or the ‘suitable’ option worn exclusively at birthdays, weddings and funerals, ‘Cool Girl Pearls’ have revitalized a gemstone that has fascinated the public imagination for centuries.

Neck and chest of woman in white shirt with two pearl necklaces of varying size

Instagram: @blackandcoral.jewelry

Pearl jewellery is thought to be so old that no one exact date of origin can be found. Following recent excavations in Abu Dhabi, Emirati experts announced that the world’s oldest pearl had been excavated from a stone age settlement near Abu Dhabi. Thought to be over 8,000 years old, pearls have served as a symbol of wealth, modesty and purity in most ancient cultures across the globe. During the Roman Empire, Julius Caesar ruled they could only be worn by the aristocratic elite whilst Queen Cleopatra is said to have crushed a pearl into a glass of wine to prove to Marc Antony that she was capable of holding the most expensive dinner in history.

Neck and chest of woman in white shirt with hair up wearing pearl necklace, bracelet, and earrings.

Instagram: @blackandcoral.jewelry

Pearls have continued to enthrall wearers well into the twentieth century. Transforming from the jewel of European royalty to a mark of contemporary glamour, it seems fitting that Elizabeth Taylor’s acquisition of ‘La Pelegrina’, ‘the most infamous pearl in history’ connected Hollywood to a long line of regal predecessors.

Open palm holding strand of pearl earrings dipped in gold

Instagram: @willsnotebook

In more recent times, independent designers like Alighieri, Sophie Pacheree and Nadya Shelbaya have sought to reinvent the idea of perfect pearls and the women that wear them. From imperfect shapes to unique, organic settings, contemporary designers celebrate the elegance of the pearl in its natural form. A fresh change from single-strand necklaces and modest studs, these so-called ‘cool-girl’ pearls break away from the conventional standards of jewellery popularised from the twentieth century onwards. Rather, these gems celebrate natural beauty, their organic and unrefined design mirroring the originality of the contemporary women that them.

Three pairs of pearl earrings dipped in gold against notebook background with writing describing the jewelry

Instagram: @rgarrahan

Throughout history, the power of the pearl has never waned. As the latest chapter in the story that has enthralled wearers for generations, ‘cool girl pearls’ illustrate how a timeless jewellery trend has been reworked to suit contemporary consumer demands. Regardless of size, setting, shape or value, pearls remain a popular luxury of the natural world. To quote Jackie Kennedy, “pearls are always appropriate”; the girl with the ‘cool-girl pearls’ is undoubtedly here to stay.

 

References:

https://www.vogue.co.uk/article/baroque-pearls-trend-2019

https://www.dw.com/en/worlds-oldest-pearl-found-in-abu-dhabi/a-50909299

https://www.pacharee.com/story

https://www.vogue.co.uk/gallery/tough-girl-pearls

Tim Walker: Wonderful Things

In the V&A’s latest exhibition Tim Walker: Wonderful Things, it is the museum itself that takes centre stage. Known for his fantastical sets, fairytale-esque scenes, and dramatic yet delicate costumes, Walker has been preparing for this exhibition for three years and his journey has taken him through more than one hundred of the V&A’s public galleries, to Bethnal Green’s Museum of Childhood, onto the roof of the South Kensington site and even underground into the labyrinthine Victorian tunnels beneath the museum itself.

The finished result – the completed exhibition – reads like a trip to Oz, Narnia, or Wonderland, with the V&A’s objects providing a plethora of potential keys (sometimes literally – one of my favourite displayed artefacts was Chamberlain’s Key) to the elusive shrinking door. Walker himself flits between the roles of Alice and the white rabbit – himself lost amongst the beauty and complexity of the V&A’s archives, but also leading us deeper and deeper into his strange, otherworldly visions.

Gold, decorative key in museum vitrine.

The Chamberlain’s Key, photo author’s own

Upon entering the exhibition space, visitors step inside a small white room with hand-blown glass letters hanging from above. Spelling out ‘Wonderful Things’, these letters are illuminated by a rainbow projection and after passing underneath them we are eased into Walker’s wonderland, as the first room appears, at first glance, to be a typical gallery room – clean, white and minimalist with framed portraits of notable figures hanging on the walls. But a closer look – both at the room itself and at the photographs – reveals a subversion of this traditional model.

Wall of multiple white framed photographs by Tim Walker, portraits of celebrities.

Tim Walker’s wall of portraits at his Wonderful Things exhibition, photo author’s own

Huge drips of white paint leak from the ceiling, almost camouflaged against the crisp, clean walls and in addition to the large photographs framed in clusters, the odd one or two is tucked away behind a display case, almost sitting on the floor. The photographs themselves demand a similar attention to detail: a brief glance at Walker’s portrait of Claire Foy – with her puffed-sleeve Alexander McQueen dress, her long white gloves and her tiara – and we immediately recognise her as the Queen in The Crown, but upon closer inspection we notice her uncharacteristically sceptical facial expression and the single cigarette hanging limply from between her perfectly made-up lips. Other memorable portraits ranged from a witch-like Margaret Atwood wielding a huge feather quill and wearing a heavy black cape, to Joanna Lumley, her light yellow feminine Chanel suit contrasting with her exaggerated Patsy Stone-style beehive and the crude image of twenty cigarettes crammed into her mouth.

Portrait of Joanna Lumley with a mouth full of cigarettes and holding a lighter

Tim Walker’s portrait of Joanna Lumley, photo author’s own

The level of detail in this room draws visitors in and we become absorbed in Walker’s world. But the white rabbit beckons us on, and we proceed to nine more stunningly decorated rooms, each one an ode to a different V&A artefact and all designed by Shona Heath. One much darker room takes inspiration from a sixteenth-century stained glass panel depicting Tobias and Sara, and is laid out like a dilapidated church, complete with gothic arches and damp-looking walls. The glowing colours of the stained glass – a perfect contrast to the dull grey tones of the set – are echoed in Walker’s images, including his fluorescent photographs of Grace Jones and his picture of Zuzanna Bartoszek, in which a stained glass pattern is projected over her body, clothing her in light and making her glow like a part of the window.

Tim Walker exhibition room with large church like wall with three stained glass pieces.

The dilapidated church set, photo author’s own

Another of my favourite rooms draws upon the largest photograph in the V&A’s archive – an image of the Bayeaux Tapestry. Flouting the traditional ‘look but don’t touch’ rule of the museum, this room seems interested in the tactile, focusing on the handiwork involved in the creation of the real tapestry. A central, semi-circular wall displays Walker’s photographs: a chain of them has been pasted together in a long, tapestry-like strip and each one is set inside a small padded cell, with loose material such as string, rope and cushion stuffing surrounding the subjects, who are dressed largely in red, blue, brown and green clothing that references the colouration of the tapestry’s stitches. The wall itself is also covered in a light, beige fabric and looked as though it has been quilted. Indeed, a gentle prod confirmed its satisfying, squishy texture.

two large, framed Tim Walker photos on curved, upholstered wall.

The quilted wall in the final room of the exhibition, photo author’s own

In Wonderful Things Tim Walker and his team pay homage to the museum as a site of history, creative potential and inspiration, while also subverting its conventions. By looking through the lens of Tim Walker’s camera, we glimpse the possibility of a new sort of platform for showcasing fashion and fashion photography within a museum.

Tim Walker: Wonderful Things at the Victoria and Albert Museum is curated by Susanna Brown and designed by Shona Heath. Tickets are available until 8 March 2020.

Saying ‘au revoir’ to Class of 2019

As another academic year draws to a close, I want to reflect on the wonderful time I have had teaching my Class of 2019 MA Documenting Fashion students…

The autumn term started with a breakfast to greet my new students—and it was clear what an interesting and sparky group they would be.  During the initial thematic classes, we discussed what the terms ‘dress’, ‘fashion,’ ‘costume’, etc. meant and looked at a range of books in our Special Collections—from a 1598 edition of Vecellio’s Habiti antichi, et moderni di tutto il mondo to Paul Iribe’s beautifully illustrated Les robes de Paul Poiret of 1908, to consider the ways fashion has been documented and represented through history.  

Jeordy and Lacey

We talked about our sensory experiences of fashion, fashion’s relationship to memory—personal and historical—and visited archives to develop our ideas. This included a trip to see Beatrice Behlen, Head of Fashion and Decorative Art at the Museum of London, where she showed us several people’s wardrobes; there, the group was entranced by the ways individual style can be recognised and analysed in any era.

Marielle and Daisy

And this was just the opening section of the course and of the students’ entry into the world of Dress History.  It has been so rewarding to see all of you develop from this point—increasing your already considerable skills and finding exciting lines of enquiry as you developed your dissertation topics.  

So, thank you Daisy, Ellen, Fran, Imogene, Jeordy, Lacey, Lily and Marielle—you have all been a complete joy to teach, and I am really looking forward to seeing what you do next. Enjoy the summer—get some well-deserved rest and relish your success at The Courtauld.

 

The Year Distilled

 

Tomorrow the Documenting Fashion class of 2019 graduates. Here, as a farewell, we reflect on the past year through items of clothing which we feel summarise our learning and experiences at the Courtauld.

 

Lacey

You’ve heard of wearing your heart on your sleeve…

I found this photograph an annoying couple of weeks after submitting the plans for my virtual exhibition, Eyes on Me: The Spectacle of the Worn Gaze. Archaeologist Howard Carter uncovered the tomb of King Tutankhamen in 1922, a moment that not only made its mark upon history and the collective imagination, but also manifested itself in art and fashion and upon women’s bodies …

Neither brevity nor synthesis is my forte, but were I to distill this year into a dress, it would be this ‘Egyptomanic’ mousseline Chanel shift. It represents a piece in history I am now equipped to trace and that maxim of ‘eyes wide open’ that has now both inspired and troubled me for years.

 

Marielle

This is a sketch by Bonnie Cashin that we viewed during our visit to the FIT archives in New York. Here, the details of the outfit itself are rendered loosely and it’s not quite clear what the finished garments would have looked like. What I love about this sketch, and others by Cashin, is the levity with which she fashions her image of woman. There is a playfulness in the words written at the top of the page: ‘I’m a career girl — I keep it all in two attaches!’ I don’t know the exact date of this sketch, but I imagine it corresponds with her time designing for Coach in the 1960s, during which she created some of their most iconic designs.

The caption, while playful and charming, also touches on something much greater. It relates to the sociocultural shift of women entering the workforce in the postwar period, and how these changes were mediated by fashion, consumption and played out on the body. For me, this sketch captures many of the relevant discussions in our course throughout the year, situating the (stylishly) fashioned body among its social and historical context, all the while maintaining a fun and light tone which made our year deeply engaging and enormously enjoyable.

 

Imogene

Azzedine Alaïa ensemble, Winter 1986, ‘Adrian and Alaïa: The Art of Tailoring,’ Association Azzedine Alaïa, Paris, photograph taken by the author.

Fashion is Timelessly Relevant.

If I were to distill this year into an outfit, it would be this look by Azzedine Alaïa from his winter 1986 collection. This ensemble, although designed in the 80s, is something you would see on the street today. It symbolizes the fact that fashion and ideas about fashion can transcend time, which was the conclusion I drew from my MA course. The course was tremendously enriching, and I learned so much about the history of fashion between 1920-1960 through image and film. Most satisfying of all was the realization that everything that I learned is entirely pertinent to my contemporary fashion interests. We were taught to ascertain relevant overarching themes and think critically about issues pertaining to the crucial role dress plays in society and culture.

This look in particular epitomizes for me the way in which Alaïa’s designs are timeless – as are the ideas to which I was exposed this year. This outfit, created almost 40 years ago, is one I would and in fact do, in a way, wear today. While our relationship to dress may differ with time, the vital role fashion plays in reflecting and yes, also in constructing the air du temps, has remained a constant, which demonstrates just how communicative dress can be. I am confident that I can now charge ahead to seek a career in the fashion industry, given the foundation of knowledge I have obtained. In the meantime I will be dreaming about someday being able to afford this outfit …

 

Daisy

Alice Moll of Dick, Kerr’s Ladies, ca. early-1920s, postcard, National Football Musuem Archive, Preston (Photo: National Football Museum).

The outfit which sums up the year for me is the women’s football kit from the late-1910s and early-1920s. For me personally, it reflects how I discovered a love of sport history since starting the course. But it also reflects many of the the themes which we learned about and discussed during our MA. We have looked closely at the significance of clothing in relation to constructions of gender, learning how clothes can both reflect ideologies surrounding gender but also reinforce them through the lived experience of wearing certain clothes. In the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries women were expected to wear very specific types of clothing that reflected notions of ‘femininity’. This clothing was often very restrictive, including corsets and large, unwieldy skirts. So the football kit, traditionally worn by men, posed a huge threat to traditional values – changing both the outward expression of what women were and could be and also the lived experience of the women wearing this loose, comfortable outfit.

The outfit also highlights the importance of movement and gesture in our understandings of dress. Joanne Eicher defines ‘dress’ as including not just clothing itself but also body-modification, personal hygiene and stance. The football kit is fascinating because it changes the way the players’ present themselves in photographs compared to earlier images of women. Furthermore, watching film footage of women playing football in this period brings the outfit to life, showing the changing movements of women and highlighting the importance of sports clothing to this. Ultimately, to me, the female football kit represents my dissertation – the culmination of an intense but fascinating and growthful year!

 

Ellen

Costume worn by Emma Stone in The Favourite, dir. Yorgos Lanthimos, costume designer, Sandy Powell. Photo, authors’ own, taken at Hatfield House.

This outfit represents the latter part of the MA year for me. I wrote about the anachronistic costume in Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite, and out of all the monochrome madness that was going on with the costumes, this is one of my top picks.

It comes at a moment of peak excess in the film for Emma Stone’s character, Abigail, as she ascends from servant to Queen Anne’s favourite. I love the way the film’s costume designer, Sandy Powell, uses the correct silhouette for the mantua style of the time, but experiments with her limited palette and produces this striped bonanza of a dress.

This costume is representative of the year for me, as the course has allowed me to combine my love of history of art, fashion history and film costume, and my enthusiasm for my dissertation consequently knew no bounds! Thank you to Rebecca and congrats to my fellow MAs! X

 

Fran

This year it very much feels like everything I have worked on, been fascinated with, motivated by; has revolved around time – its linearity, its contradictions when explored through a fashion historical lens, its kinks, apertures, and its tendency to double ‘back on itself’ [1]. For my Virtual Exhibition assessment, I looked at what it would mean to encourage a conversation within the walls of a historic space that is known to have inspired a multitude of groundbreaking fashion designs. The @wallacemuseum was the setting, the mid-to-late 1990s work of Vivienne Westwood and the emerging, NewGen London artists of today – including @dilarafindikoglu, @_charlesjeffrey, @yuhanwangyuhan, etc. – were the players.

So when I saw that The Wallace Collection were holding an exhibition this summer that placed legendary shoe designer Manolo Blahník’s (@manoloblahnikhq) works from his private archives, against some of the collection’s most priced masterpieces, I was enthralled. It felt like a real life working out of an assignment I had poured over (though of course the stimuli are wholly different, and a lot pointier), and it made me smile to consider how ideas that we grab at and strive to thoughtfully construct in our seminars, assessments and lunch time debates; could truly find a realised place in contemporary, fashion historical spaces.

I pinched this image from a personal (professional) hero of mine – Naomi Smart (@naomismartuk), British Vogue’s Shopping Editor – from when she visited the exhibition’s opening. The miniature circled is (funnily enough) an artwork that also featured in my Virtual Exhibition – great minds and all that 😉 …

[1] Caroline Evans, ‘history’ in Fashion at the Edge: Spectacle, modernity and deathliness (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2003), p.22

 

Jeordy

For me the last 9 months have been a whirlwind of learning, growing and delving ever deeper into the world of historical fashion. Throughout the year, I attempted to model my personal style on what my research revealed as a typical ‘college girl wardrobe’ of the 1940s. By dressing the part, I felt like I was not only embodying the idealized student but also connecting to the individual items, designers and dressed individuals I studied and wrote about.

This outfit serves as an excellent example of 1940s college girl attire and symbolises how, throughout the course, the entirety of my life was focused on the pursuit of knowledge. The variety of textures within the outfit —the crisp cotton dress, the scratchy wool jumper, the soft cashmere beret and the worn leather of the shoes— replicate the myriad concepts and approaches to fashion and dress history that the Documenting Fashion unveiled.

The calm earth tones of this ensemble are misleading however, as the year was vibrant, like a textile woven from multicolored threads of knowledge.

How The Jonas Brothers Paid Homage to The Favourite in their Sucker Music Video

In the middle of research for my dissertation, I procrastinated by watching the Jonas Brother’s music video for their single ‘Sucker’. I can’t say I’m a close follower of the band but I was drawn in by their reunion and I feel that they are genuinely hilarious, indicated by this Paper cover.

Pls be my friends.

I’ve since become hooked on the song, but the most significant part of the video for me was the location: the stately home, Hatfield House. This is because a key part of my dissertation was based on the locations used in Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite, especially Hatfield, which was used for Queen Anne’s palace.
For the most part the music video matches the theme of the song, with the brothers literally falling at their wives’ feet. There was also a chaotic atmosphere, which I felt resembled a mad hatter’s tea party through the exuberant outfits and actual tea parties. In this sense, the grandeur of Hatfield suits the excess in the video; lounging in a bubble bath in a diamond hairnet should be an everyday ritual.

Sofie Turner in the ‘Sucker’ music video.

However, having obsessively looked at Hatfield onscreen and in person, there were some definite nods to The Favourite. I’ve narrowed it down to these three moments:
1. Rabbits

Sophie Turner and Danielle Jonas in ‘Sucker’.

Olivia Colman and Emma Stone as Queen Anne and Abigail Masham in The Favourite.

In The Favourite, Queen Anne has seventeen pet rabbits, which represent the real monarch’s number of miscarriages. They are a key visual motif throughout the film, communicating the Queen’s tragedy and eccentricity. In Sucker, Sophie Turner and Danielle Jonas lounge on deckchairs in the distinctive Marble Hall (think of the scene in the film with the dance mash-up of voguing and waltzing), while a herd of rabbits surround them.

2. The Long Gallery 

Priyanka Chopra in ‘Sucker’.

Emma Stone in The Favourite, with a wide angle lens used for this shot.

This expansive corridor is used many times throughout the film to convey the idea of isolated spaces, with the gallery often manipulated by the use of fisheye lenses to enhance the length and add a period look to the film. In the music video, Priyanka Chopra strides down the corridor, and there is the same gilded ceiling and wooden panelling which makes it so distinctive in The Favourite.

3. The Library 

Image 7: The gang’s all here.

Rachel Weisz and Mark Gatiss as Sarah and John, the Duchess and Duke of Marlborough.

The library is used as Sarah’s bedroom in the film, distinctive for its floor to ceiling bookshelves and ladders lining the walls (think of Sarah throwing books at Abigail, if the room isn’t coming to mind). In the final moments of the music video, the band and their wives pose in front of the shelves as their portraits are painted.
Hatfield House, with its distinctive Jacobean architecture, is a popular film location, and this could be the reason why the Jo Bros chose it for their music video. However, assuming those moments are references to The Favourite makes me enjoy the video and the film so much more, so I can only thank the band for some mid-dissertation distraction.
Watch ‘Sucker’ here.

A Kit Of Their Own

On 9th June 2019, the England Women’s football team took to the pitch at the Stade de Nice for their first match of the Women’s World Cup. They wore white, with red and blue striped cuffs, andsported the Three Lions (or maybe the Three Lionesses) on their shirt. This was the first time in the 140-year history of women’s football in England that a national team wore a kit that had beenspecifically designed for them.

England Women’s Football Team (‘The Lionesses’), June 2019.

Even on a practical level, the new England Women’s strip is of huge significance. Up until now, female players have worn kits designed for the masculine body. Often baggy and ill-fitting, the strip made the players less aerodynamic and caused discomfort while playing. The new kit is designed for and fitted to the female shape. For the first time, sportswear technology has been channelled into the development of a specifically female, professional-standard football kit, in order to support and enhance the performance of these top-level players.

England Women’s Football Team, UEFA Women’s Euro, June 2005.

Kirsty Pealing of England, ca. 2004.

Beyond this important practical progression, the new strip allows the England Women’s team to construct a unique visual identity, distinct from that of the men’s team. Academic discourse has, inrecent years, focussed on the interrelation of sport and gender. Jayne Caudwell and Jennifer Hargreaves, among others, have highlighted how, since the Victorian period, sport has become central to both the symbolic construction of masculinity and the lived experience of many men. As such, women have historically been excluded from sport on organisational, symbolic and cultural levels. These deeply engrained attitudes towards sport have often resulted in the derision ofwomen’s sport, clearly highlighted in the criticism female footballers have received via social mediain recent years. The implication of such criticism seems to be that women’s football is merely an inferior version of the men’s game, which is held as the pinnacle of what football as a sport can be.Despite the many and varied successes of England Women in the last 30 years, their kits – identical to the male strip – arguably visibly reinforced this perception of female football as merely anextension of the men’s sport, their achievements and identity drowned in the din surrounding men’sfootball.

Twitter Comments on Women’s Football, June 2019.

Twitter Comments on Women’s Football, June 2019.

The new strip, by contrast, creates an aesthetic associated exclusively with the England Women’sfootball team. Worn by players, it links this aesthetic to their performance and the pride and support it generates. Worn by fans, it expresses an allegiance to specifically the England Women’s team. Furthermore, it allows for a differentiation between the men’s and women’s games.

While perhaps, in an ideal world, there would be no distinction between the two, in reality the sports have developed in different ways. Men’s football is highly professionalized and skilful, but has also seen large-scale organisational corruption, while enormous salaries and invasive media attention is arguably damaging to the well-being of players. Women’s football aims to take a more holistic approach. At a talk I recently attended at the British Library, a representative of the F.A. suggested that there are structures in place to support female players, providing financial advice, career support and mental health provision, issues that she believes were historically overlooked in themen’s sport. Fans present at the same talk suggested that the sport itself had its own distinctive andpositive attributes, describing it as ‘football like it used to be’. Other fans praised female players for the efforts they make to interact with fans and the safe, friendly atmosphere of the crowds. The visually distinctive new England strip allows both players and fans to celebrate these unique aspectsof women’s football.

England Women’s Football Team (“the Lionesses”), June 2019.

That is not to pit men and women’s football against one another. Personally, I would love in the future to see them learn from one another in order to create two equally skilful, equally holistic sporting structures. Because, for those of us who love sport, two sets of high-quality football to watch can only be better than one.

 

Bibliography/Further Reading

@lionesses Instagram account

Hargreaves, Jennifer, Heroines of Sport: The Politics of Difference and Identity (London: Routledge, 2000).

Hargreaves, Jennifer, Sporting Females: Critical Issues in the History and Sociology of Women’sSports (London: Routledge, 1994).

Caudwell, Jayne, ‘Gender, Feminism and Football Studies’, Soccer and Society 12, no. 3 (2011), pp. 330-344. Accessed online via British Library.

Caudwell, Jayne, ‘Reviewing UK Football Cultures: Continuing with Gender Analyses’, Soccer and Society 12, no. 3 (2011), pp. 323-329. Accessed online via British Library.

In Which My Grandmother Tells Me About Japan

As the year winds down, I thought I would let my grandmother do the writing in one of my final blog posts, as I continue to decompress after a charged summer term (read: dissertation season).


Ann was teaching at a Department of Defence school in Okinawa—her first teaching job overseas—in the 1960s when she met my grandfather. My mother was born in 1970, and they lived in Japan for another couple of years before moving to Hawaii and, eventually, Bakersfield, California.

My favourite picture* of my grandparents together: Ann and Bill at a teahouse.

I never knew my grandfather, so I grew up with photographs—both of him and by him. I also grew up with inherited memories and borrowed relics from my family’s time in Japan: a cloud-soft white kimono I wore for one of my first Halloween nights; a doll in a glass case with a cup of water; my mom’s tiny tabi socks that I remember once fitting me; the creaking snick of kimono closet doors opening and closing…

These dress-centric recollections are selected from a series of emails my grandmother sent me in early 2016, when I requested: ‘Tell me about Japan.’ The photos come from the albums upon albums stored in bookshelves and a great wooden chest at my grandma’s house in Bakersfield.


I believe my first official date with Bill was to a tea house; don’t remember details but we talked for hours. Funny what the brain chooses to remember. I remember wearing a red lightweight wool outfit. It was a pleated skirt with an attached camisole and over it a loose, long sleeved matching top that buttoned down the back. Wish I had it now!

We were there for a year. While there, I had some clothes made. I had grown up with homemade clothes, so store-bought ones were a treat. And there I was, wanting handmade clothes again. I recall a coral dress (wool again) with a fitted matching jacket and a brownish one with silvery-looking embroidery. Low waisted and slightly gathered. I would still like that one. I loved sending Mother stuff. I had a brown coat with a fur collar made for her, among other things.
I have one of the fur hats she sent her mother, as well as a wool coat that I wear in the winter. 

Two times our little convertible Datsun Fair Lady was stolen. Police found it both times. First time, somewhere outside Yokohama, abandoned in a rice paddy; and the second time, on a side street in Yokohama. Guess they ran out of gas after joy riding. It WAS cute!

We frequented Motomachi (name of a short street) often. There was a sushi bar that was a favourite and at the other end was a German restaurant that served the tastiest borscht; and when it went out of business, we were disappointed. Also on that street was a clothing store. I remember buying two long wraparound quilted skirts that were warm and I liked them.

I loved shopping in Japan. Not just for the items but the manner of wrapping so beautifully in a furoshiki (fabric wrapping). In the large department stores, there would be a greeter (I recall only women) at the foot of the escalator to welcome you as you were about to ascend. Mind you, this was in the sixties. I don’t know how things are now. 

My friend Sally and I modelled together. Crazy time. She was bisexual and wanted to find a lesbian bar.  Keep in mind that I spoke hardly any Japanese at that time and she spoke even less. So I am not sure we even had the right word for lesbian. Anyway, winter time after we had had a modelling assignment was dark.  Set off in a taxi to find this bar. Probably we were in Shinjuku (large area of Tokyo) in the Golden Gai District (known for its architecture, little bars crammed together upstairs and down—favourite hangout for artists). We felt very adventurous and very nervous. We would go into one and ask where we might find a lesbian bar, and we’d get a response that they either didn’t know or didn’t understand us—or they’d direct us to another place. Finally we went into one and inquired and we were pointed to upstairs. Now upstairs might have been a fine place to go; but not knowing what was really upstairs, we left, and caught the train to Yokohama. (I never drove to Tokyo. Always took the train.)  

‘And it was there that Michie had put beside each plate a rose petal with a pearl on it.’

Speaking of Sally—we both worked for the Patricia Charm Modelling Agency, the only foreign modelling agency in Tokyo at that time. She took a percentage of whatever we were paid, don’t remember what.   Sally felt she took too much and suggested we freelance. When we told Patricia our plans, she said she would blacklist us. Well, it wasn’t that I was gorgeous; but the Japanese photographers liked me because I was friendly and attempted to learn their language. So I received several job offers right away.  Then they would start canceling on me. Indeed Patricia did what she said. Really okay because not too long after that I became pregnant and became all wrapped up in that.


I will be at home in Los Angeles for a few weeks later this summer, and amongst the few things I have planned—a bal des victimes dinner party, driving lessons, days at the beach—a trip to Bakersfield definitely figures, when these photos will be unearthed and put into motion once more.

*All photographs belong to the author and her family.

Dissertation Discussion: Marielle

Screenshot from Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989)

What is the working title of your dissertation?

I haven’t decided on a snappy title yet, but right now it could be called ‘Bodies and Borders in Jean Paul Gaultier’s Carnival Space’.

What led you to choose this subject?

I’ve been interested in looking at Peter Greenaway’s 1989 film The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, for which Gaultier designed the costumes. During an early tutorial, Rebecca suggested that I consider it in terms of Bakhtin’s theory of the carnivalesque, which has proven to be a perfect lens through which to view Gaultier’s work, and really captures its spirit. I’m now treating the film as a culmination of his work until that point, so I can look closely at the early years of his career, just before his fame really soared to another level when he did Madonna’s costumes for the 1990 Blond Ambition tour.

Favourite book/article you’ve read for your dissertation so far and why?

Initially, I loved Nita Rollins’ ‘Old Masters, Fashion Slaves’ essay because I love how she writes about the baroque sensibilities of Greenaway’s film and how Gaultier’s costumes operate within that. This is part of what sparked my excitement for the film. Since diving into Gaultier, I’ve really loved Colin McDowell’s book called Jean Paul Gaultier. It describes his work really nicely, but also integrates quotes from the designer which I’ve found to be amazing insights into his ethos and thought process.

Favourite image/object in your dissertation and why?

Greenaway’s film has been an amazing visual resource to spend time on. The colors are super saturated and it has this really dark, vile underbelly contrasted with the over-the-top interiors and costumes. I like that it can be so beautiful and appealing, and so grotesque at the same time. That feeling of discomfort is what appealed to me in the first place, and has been very useful for setting up discussions about Gaultier and Bakhtin. Plus, Helen Mirren stars in it and looks fabulous in all of her costumes.

Favourite place to work?

Senate House Library! I like to find a corner near a window in a section of a totally unrelated discipline to minimize any kind of distraction.

Dissertation Discussion: Daisy

What is the working title of your dissertation?

‘A Class of Football … Well Worth Watching’: Women’s Football Clothing, 1915-1921

What led you to choose this subject?

I’ve always been a huge sports fan, although growing up in Devon I would choose to watch rugby over football every time! But I started playing football with a team in London a year and a half ago and absolutely fell in love with playing the sport. My Dad and I have discussed women’s sport a lot since I started playing as I feel this is a real moment in history for women in sport; many individuals and teams are finally getting recognition for their talents while there is funding coming in at a grassroots level that just wasn’t there previously. My Dad mentioned a documentary he’d watched on women’s football during World War One; how popular it was, gathering crowds of up to 53,000, and how it was subsequently banned in 1921. Unbelievably, the ban wasn’t lifted until 1971. As someone who has benefited so much from playing sport, I found the idea of so many women being banned from playing football really shocking and sad. I also feel that so many people don’t understand this important moment in the history of women’s sport and why, in consequence, women’s football is significantly underdeveloped compared to the men’s game. I was already planning on focusing my dissertation on the period of the 1910s, because I think it is such a sudden period of change from the old Victorian values to the modernity of the 1920s, so to focus on women’s football in this period seemed an absolutely perfect topic!

Favourite book/article you’ve read for your dissertation so far and why?

A match report of a women’s football match in Preston from 1918. The journalist seems so enthused by the sport and so in support of the female players, it’s really heart-warming. My favourite quote is: ‘The attendance at Deepdale on Saturday shows there is distinctly a public for Ladies Football in Preston and … the girls play a class of football that … make[s] the game well worth watching’.

Favourite image/object in your dissertation and why?

An image of the Yorkshire Ladies and Dick Kerr Ladies in front of the large crowds at Deepdale stadium.

Yorkshire Ladies and Dick Kerr’s Ladies, 1921, postcard, Alice Kell Collection, National Football Museum Archives, Preston (Photo: National Football Museum).

Favourite place to work?

I’ve really enjoyed working in the Library Study Room at Vernon Square; it’s got big mullion windows which let in the sun and frame the view of the trees next to the building. I also love working in the Periodicals Room at Senate House Library which has comfy Chesterfield sofas where you can curl up with your laptop. Although sometimes it’s slightly too comfortable to be conducive to work …