Dead Stock Dream Shop: A Visit to the Hodson Shop Archive in Walsall

During our study trip week I travelled to Walsall in the West Midlands, England, to visit the Walsall Museum’s Hodson Shop archive. This archive consists of the unsold stock of the Hodson Shop. This small draper’s and haberdasher’s shop was opened in 1920 by the twenty-nine-year-old Edith Hodson in the front room of the Hodson family’s home in the industrial town of Willenhall. Edith’s younger sister, Flora, joined the business in 1927, while their older brother Edgar ran a lock factory from the courtyard. After the death of both Edith and Edgar, Flora continued to run the shop until the early 1970s. The abandoned shop stock was discovered in 1983, after Flora’s death, and was passed on to Walsall Museum, where it is now curated by the lovely Catherine Lister.

Sheila B. Shreeve, who has meticulously catalogued the collection of over 3000 dress items, was working as a volunteer at Walsall Museum at the time of the shop’s discovery. Shreeve’s description of her first encounter with the abandoned shop pretty much sounds like the stuff my dreams are made of: “Imagine my delight when I first entered the front room of the locksmith’s house and found it to have been a draper’s shop. Boxed were piled haphazardly on flimsy shelves, slim and elegant leather gloves were strewn across the floor. On the oak counter was a display box which revealed rolls of shimmering silk ribbons abandoned when superseded first by rayon ones and then by nylon” (Shreeve, 82).

As Shreeve points out, the collection of unsold garments, dating from the 1920s to the early 1960s, would have been worn “by the ordinary men, woman and children in the street”, the local working-class and lower middle-class. (Shreeve, 82-83). By looking at the Hodson Shop archive one gains a fascinating insight into the ‘everyday’ life of the non-elite in the West Midlands area in England.

Besides women’s, men’s and children’s clothing, the collection also contains haberdashery items, dressmaking and needlework magazines, cosmetics, and household goods. Moreover, boxes of printed items, such as warehouse and other supplier catalogues and leaflets, give an insight in the business side of the shop.

Spring 1931 catalogue cover from Wilkinson & Riddell Ltd., retail drapers from Birmingham. Hodson Shop collection, Walsall Museum. Photograph: Nelleke Honcoop

What I absolutely loved about my visit was to see the way this collection has been catalogued. Besides giving a dense, detailed description of the style, material and size, Shreeve has made a small drawing depicting the garment, with relevant details such as pleats, pockets, or fabric print. These drawings give a wonderful visual overview of the collection, and also show fashion’s changing silhouette over time.

Descriptions and drawings of 1920s dresses (left) and 1940s dresses (right) by Sheila Shreeve for Hodson Shop catalogue record. Hodson Shop collection, Walsall Museum. Photograph: Nelleke Honcoop

Shreeve has added more ‘layers’ to this collection, as she has created a separate catalogue record card for each garment. Moreover, in the case of some garments, Shreeve has found cross-references in the form of advertisements in the warehouse catalogues. These advertisements give us additional information. For instance, a sleeveless blouse made of artificial silk was advertised in the Spring 1931 catalogue of Wilkinson & Riddell Ltd., a warehouse based in Birmingham. The blouse was available in the following colours: “ivory, sahara, champagne, nil, and powder”.

The artificial blouse that was advertised in the Wilkinson & Riddell catalogue for Spring 1931, and catalogue record card by Sheila Shreeve. Photograph: Nelleke Honcoop

Because the Hodson Shop collection is “dead stock”, as it was never sold to and used by consumers, the clothing I looked at was overall in a crisp and pristine condition. This dead stock condition fascinated me, as these were garments that were made to be worn, but never worn in the end. Even so, on the back of a beautiful navy blue crepe dress manufactured by Belcrepe from c. 1936, which had the original swing ticket still attached, I noticed an interesting pattern of discoloration caused by fading. This dress showed, in an almost eerie way, what time – and light – can do to a garment that has never been worn and has been stored away.

Navy blue crepe dress by Belcrepe (England) from c. 1936 with swing ticket “A Belcrepe Robe” (left). The fading is clearly visible on the back of the dress (right). Hodson Shop collection, Walsall Museum. Photograph: Nelleke Honcoop

By Nelleke Honcoop

 

Further reading:

Shreeve, Sheila B. ‘The Hodson Shop’. Costume 48, no. 1 (1 January 2014): 82–97.

Blog written by Jenny Evans about her PhD on the Hodson Shop: https://hodsonshopproject.com/

Online database of the Hodson Shop: www.blackcountryhistory.org

 

Documenting Fashion Takes NYC: The Madame Margé folder at the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Special Collections

 

The MA Documenting Fashion crew took New York City by storm last week! Stay tuned for posts about what we saw and did on our fabulous study-trip-extravaganza.

Our first visit was with April Calahan at FIT’s Special Collections department. April kindly showed us several boxes full of fashion illustrations, photographs and designs from the Twentieth Century, including the second issue of US Vogue and early designs from Chanel, Bonnie Cashin and Rudi Gernreich.

Among the treasures presented to us there was a folder containing late 1920s or 30s coloured sketches for designs made by Madame Margé, which was donated to the museum in 1957. There has been very little research done about Margé. She was born as Marguerite Norlin in 1978 in Philadelphia, and later Francophiled her name as was often the case for designers in the earlier Twentieth Century. Paris was then seen as the fashion central, but throughout the decades Margé was working it gradually shifted to include America. In New York and Chicago she owned fashion firms, selling the latest designs throughout the interwar period.[1]

The folder at FIT contained colour-washed fashion illustrations, alongside large swatches of fabric which covered the entire page next to each design. Underneath the designs were the name and number for each piece. It is unclear whether it was Margé herself who drew these, however they are highly effective for us appreciating the clothes because of their use of colour. Rich pastel tones are used to convey the notion of what it would be like to wear such beautiful items. The drawings also show how the clothes would have looked like from behind.

The most interesting aspect of these pages was the presence of generous fabric swatches beside the drawings instead of the tiny squares of fabric customarily included with sketches. These were added so that the customer could get a real feel for the design before buying it. The size of the swatches demonstrates how important fabric was for Margé. For example, ‘Cherie,’ design number 63, includes a highly tactile piece of sheer silk chiffon floral fabric, slightly larger than an A4 paper size. The swatch includes further three-dimensional aspects of the design such as pleats, folds and drapes, and a light tortoise binding.

Although stuck onto a flat page, the contents of this folder reveal intrinsic details to the designs, and offer an alternative experience of the finished products.

By Grace Lee

You can schedule an appointment to visit FIT’s Special Collections department on their website www.fitnyc.edu/library/sparc/visit

 

[1] Ben-Horin, Keren. “Who Are You Madame Margé?”. Blog. On Pins And Needles, 2011. https://pinsndls.com/2011/02/19/who-are-you-madame-Margé/.

Royal Women at Fashion Museum Bath

 

After our last essays were due, Destinee and I embarked on a lovely day trip to Bath, where we wandered among the limestone Georgian facades and marveled at the ancient Roman baths. But first, we took our pilgrimage to the Fashion Museum to see their new Royal Women exhibition.

The exhibition, which spans four generations of Britain’s royal women, begins with a large family tree introducing the women along with their royal, familial connection, setting the stage for the exhibition’s biographical and monarchial narrative.  Although none of the women featured in the exhibition was monarch, each woman played a key role in the British monarchy. Royal Women explores how their royal roles influenced their choice in dress.

Starting with Alexandra, Princess of Wales, the exhibition placed the women’s biographies side by side with their ensembles, emphasizing the strong correlation between biography and dress. Alexandra’s 1863 wedding dress, on loan from the Royal Collection, lent by Her Majesty The Queen, is an excellent example of a ceremonial object which marks a key moment in both the life of Alexandra and Great Britain.

Queen Mary’s gowns

Also on display is an ensemble of gold and pale green velvet, worn by Queen Mary wore to the wedding of her granddaughter, Princess Elizabeth as well as Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother’s grey silk satin ball gown from 1954. Both dresses embody shifting roles for these royal women. No longer Queen consort, but mother and grandmother to the new monarch, these two formal ensembles are both elegant and subdued, reflecting the mature and regal image Queen Mary and the Queen Mother needed to maintain.

Two 1950s Norman Hartnell evening gowns worn by Princess Margaret

It could be because of my recent binge-watch of Netflix’s The Crown, but my favorite part of the Royal Women exhibition was the selection of dresses worn by the Queen’s sister, Princess Margaret. Pieces such as two 1950s Norman Hartnell evening dresses show the glamorous side of 20th century royalty and highlight and Margaret’s patronage of prominent London and Parisian couturiers. The sensuous display of skin and nipped-waists of these two dresses point to the sophisticated and alluring attitude Margaret was able to carve out for herself.

Initially, I was bothered by the small number of items in the exhibition and how the dresses shown were mostly formal or evening wear, when I was hoping to see a much more personal side of these royal women. But, upon reflection, I realized that the exhibition appropriately presents the calculated narrative of Britain’s royal women. The exhibition, much like the monarchy itself, only displays a limited view of the lives of the royals and in Royal Women, much like in real life, the public only sees the glitz and glamour, the ceremonial, and the put-together looks of the monarchy. Thus, the dresses in Royal Women tell us much about Alexandra, Mary, Elizabeth, and Margaret, and how they chose to present themselves as royal women.

By Abby Fogle

Royal Women is on at the Fashion Museum in Bath until 28 April 2019.

All photos author’s own

Star Wars & Fashion: A look into the galactic love affair

 

With Star Wars: The Last Jedi reaching over $1 billion at the box office and earning the title of the highest grossing movie of 2017, Star Wars is once again at the forefront of the cultural moment and subsequently continuing the franchises’ love affair with fashion.

From the film’s debut in the 1970s, Star Wars has been a source of inspiration for fashion, even appearing in Vogue in a 1977 spread featuring Jerry Hall and Darth Vader. The franchise’s equally iconic characters and costumes have sparked Star Wars’s influence on high fashion. Rodarte closed its Fall 2014 show with gowns featuring Star Wars characters Luke Skywalker, R2-D2, C-3PO, and Yoda. Preen Fall 2014 channeled the dark side and featured Darth Vader’s mask on several pieces. Vetements created a spoof on a Star Wars movie poster (its film is titled Star Girls) as a print on a maxi skirt in its Spring 2016 collection. Just recently, in time for the release of The Last Jedi, Rag & Bone partnered with Star Wars to produce a limited-edition collection inspired by the films.

Beyond the aesthetic coolness of these high fashion designs, why do fashion designers look to Star Wars for inspiration and why do we race to wear our favorite Jedi or Sith Lord on our bodies? Is this pure fashion as escapism? Or perhaps the allure is Star War’s ability to paradoxically position itself both in a galaxy far, far away and at the center of the current culture. Fashions with Star War’s iconography or aesthetic inspiration can transport the wearer to an outside realm where a nobody can be the hero of the universe. But these styles also allow the wearer to embody a culturally relevant phenomenon.

From a marketing standpoint, Star Wars is sellable to multiple age groups and can piggyback off of the marketing for the film itself. However, I argue that the urge to clothe ourselves in the symbols and characters of Star Wars reveals a collective desire for escapism, association with a far-off time and place, and at the same time, the need to assert our own cultural relevance. Whether fashion imitates the austere neutral colors of the Jedi Order or the harsh blacks and shiny exteriors of the dark side, the pull to wear the Force is strong.

By Abby Fogle