Documenting Fashion


Hints, Hobbies and Definitions of Fashion

May 30, 2014 by Fruzsi

‘Hints on Making an Evening Dress from a Morning Frock’ is an excerpt from the 1926 cinemagazine Hints and Hobbies. The series, produced by A. E. Coleby and S. Mumford, consisted of several instalments that supplied audiences with advice on matters that ranged from the usefulness of jiu-jitsu to optimal suggestions on restyling a hat in six different ways. As the subject matter indicates, this new genre of film was targeted at women who made up the majority of cinemagoers in the interwar period. As a key source of fashion information, cinemagazines, along with newsreels, Hollywood films and printed magazines, provided women with a treasure trove of contemporary styles from which they could select what suited their budgets and needs. Their miscellaneous advice therefore reflected the diversification of female lifestyles in the interwar period, which stimulated the need for an adaptable wardrobe suited to the pursuit of dynamic modern interests.

‘Hints on Making an Evening Dress from a Morning Frock’ is a Cinderella story tailored to contemporary needs and desires. The young girl is quickly transformed by her mother’s dexterous adjustments, presumably allowing her to go out for an evening of dancing, one of the most popular leisure activities in the 1920s. This fictional re-enactment of a scene gleaned from everyday life illustrates contemporary attitudes towards fashion and entertainment. Instead of framing fashion as a novelty attraction, the economic adaptability of current styles is emphasised. Accessories such as the lace, buckles and fake flowers that are added to the garment would have been available for purchase at department stores such as John Lewis or Whiteleys, which catered to home dressmakers. Through alterations of their existing clothing, working and lower middle-class women could participate in the collective process of fashion and express their individuality in creative ways.

The transformation of the dress also serves as a pretext to promote inter-generational female bonding. Cinemagazines frequently showed mothers and daughters collaborating on making objects for and in a domestic setting as a popular pastime. The mother’s active role in transforming her daughter for a night of dancing suggests her approval, and downplays the rebellious potential of a young woman wearing revealing evening attire in an unchaperoned social setting. ‘Hints on Making an Evening Dress from a Morning Frock’ illustrates how fashion and mass media are inextricably linked. While many assume that modern media promotes passive consumption of commodities and images, these examples demonstrate that they also have the potential to foster a creative involvement with fashion. Instead of simply providing a reflection of what fashions dominated the latter half of the 1920s, ‘Hints on Making an Evening Dress from a Morning Frock’ signals what it meant to be fashionable and how this could be achieved.

See ‘Hints on Making an Evening Dress from a Morning Frock’ here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8PXAFvOH3yg

Sources

Barnes, R., and Eicher, J. B., eds. (1993) Dress and Gender: Making and Meaning in Cultural Contexts, Oxford: Berg.

Buckley, V., and Fawcett, H. (2002) Fashioning the Feminine: Representation of Women’s Fashion from the Fin de Siecle to the Present, London: I.B. Tauris.

Hackney, F. (2006) ‘ Use Your Hands for Happiness ’: Home Craft and Make-do-and-Mend in British Women’s Magazines in the 1920s and 1930s,’ Journal of Design History Vol. 19 No. 1.

Hammerton, J. (2001) For Ladies Only? Eve’s Film Review: Pathe Cinemagazine 1921-33, Hastings: Projection Box.

Kuhn, A. (2002) An Everyday Magic: Cinema and Cultural Memory, London and New York: I.B. Tauris.

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