Are You Educated in Art?: Vogue and Taste

The other night my dissertation research had me searching through Vogue’s 1944 issues and while I didn’t find what I was looking for, I did come across an article that stopped me in my tracks. As an (aspiring?) art historian, the editorial titled “Are You Educated in Art?” in the January 1, 1944 edition of Vogue caught my attention. In this two-page spread art critic Frank Crowninshield instructs the reader about Western art history in the form of fourteen questions. Crowninshield provides answers to various questions ranging from the use of archaic Greek statuary to the influence of Picasso.

Although this questionnaire comes across as an art history pop-quiz, the text insists that it “has little more to do with your discernment and taste than with your study-book knowledge; for, in the appreciation of art, one may know all the facts and still be a Philistine.” The use of the word “taste” here is integral to the reader’s reception of this article. IAntje Krause-Wahl describes that in this period, “Vogue increasingly saw it as its responsibility to guide their readers in the principles of good taste. Jessica Daves, who in 1952 followed Edna Woolman Chase as editor-in-chief, explicitly formulated this when she described the magazine as a ‘vehicle to educate the public taste.’”

The use of art and the acquisition of art historical discernment played an integral role in Vogue’s discourse on how to obtain taste. Later, in July 1945 Vogue even devoted an entire issue to the Museum of Modern Art which featured Marcel Duchamp’s “The Large Glass” on the cover. Thus, the 1940s Vogue reader not only knows the latest fashions but she also acquires other skills crucial to being an ideal society lady such as knowledge of art history and an interest in modern art. Indeed, women’s magazines such as Vogue act as “instruction manuals” of femininity. This direct appeal to its reader to cultivate their taste and learn how to properly appreciate art, provides an excellent example of the way in which fashion magazines work to construct femininity and teach artistic literacy.

By Abby Fogle

Sources:

Craik, Jennifer. The Face of Fashion: Cultural Studies in Fashion. London: Routledge (1994), 47.

Crowninshield, Frank. “Features/Articles/People: Are You Educated in Art?” Vogue 103, no. 1 (1944): 48-49, https://search.proquest.com/docview/879229981?accountid=10277.

Krause-Wahl, Antje. “American Fashion and European Art—Alexander Liberman and the Politics of Taste in Vogue of the 1950s” in the Journal of Design History Vol. 28, No. 1. (2015).  doi:10.1093/jdh/epu041.

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

Thoughts on Birkenstocks

Birkenstock website homepage.

The other day, while mindlessly scrolling down my Facebook newsfeed, I stopped for a few seconds as an ad for a Vogue article entitled: ‘BirkenShock! After 242 Years, Birkenstock Premieres at Paris Fashion Week’ caught my eye. Nevermind the fact that this means that all of the lovely internet cookies are doing their slightly scary work of keeping track of the fact, that yes, I have been googling Vogue a lot. What really struck me was the article’s meaning, however. Birkenstock? At Paris Fashion Week? Really? I chuckled slightly, and then sat back in awe, marvelling at what appears to be a genius piece of marketing strategy. Growing up as a child in Germany, I can safely say that, in my own experience, Birkenstocks were popular, but not cool, let alone fashionable. Practical? Yes. But not cool at all. They were worn widely but seemed especially popular in slightly musty smelling organic shops. Not at all like the health food, hipster-ised places today, but the ones you only ventured into when you had a genuine food allergy (dairy and wheat in my case) and had no other choice. You would be served by middle-aged, muscular, skinny women called Maike or Ortrud, that probably lived on a diet of sunflower seeds and herbal tea alone; fabulous non-conformists with sun tanned skin, crop tops and long skirts. The other place the cork soled shoe could be spotted almost with certainty every time was a doctor’s office. Pared with clinical white trousers, shirts and overcoats they formed part of the uniform of horror that greeted you for your set of vaccinations – a known traumatic experience of any childhood. Birkenstocks back then were and still are deemed as a health shoe; they were comfortable and practical, impeccably German and not the most aesthetically pleasing.

The short article in Vogue, too stresses their health aspect, but quotes Birkenstock’s CEO as justifying the brand’s venture into fashion by saying: ‘We have been in the fashion industry for so many years already! Go around and ask every top photographer and stylist, they are all wearing Birkenstock…’. And really, while flicking through the slideshow of the fashion show on Vogue’s website you do feel that the shoe slots right in. The fact that the article appears in Vogue alone lends them increasing fashion credibility. Birkenstock’s own website also highlights them as a shoe for creatives, interviewing a few Londoners working in the creative field (fashion curator Shonagh Marshall amongst them) to showcase just how fashionable they are.

The Vogue article

Birkenstock’s are, for me, one of those very straightforward examples of the constant volatility within the cycle of fashion and also the tension between what is popular but not necessarily fashionable at any given moment and period of time. Clearly for me, the article in Vogue perhaps suggest I get over my childhood trauma, and give into the fashionable comfy-ness of the ultimate German shoe. Different to many other fashion fads, at least this one promises to keep my feet healthy…

Sources:

http://www.vogue.com/article/paris-fashion-week-birkenstock

http://mag.birkenstock.com/the-birkenstock-appreciation-club/

Introduction to the Courtauld History of Dress Journals Archive

The conference Reading Fashion Magazines may be over, but our display of 9 items from the collection is still available to be viewed outside the Courtauld Library vitrines. Please come and visit, before it closes in August. In order to tempt you, you can read the introduction to the display, and our conference, below, available for you to download in a pdf.

Introduction to the Courtauld History of Dress Journals Archive

Some of the earliest fashion magazines in the Courtauld History of Dress Journals Archive are on show in the exhibition. Here, Gazette du Bon Ton, Für die Dame and Pinpoints are displayed.

A view of the 1940s section of the exhibition featuring Harper’s Bazaar and Femina.

Elizabeth and three MA Documenting Fashion students after the completion of the exhibition instal.

Dissertation Discussion: Sophie

Photographs of Parkinson’s Wife, Wanda Rogerson in Robin Muir, ‘Norman Parkinson: Portraits in Fashion’ (London, National Portrait Gallery 2004)

What is your title?

The title of my dissertation will probably still change. However at the moment I am going with How very British: National Identity in Norman Parkinson’s fashion photography for Vogue, 1950-1952. Parkinson produced some stunning images for different spreads, many of which lend themselves really well to a study of British national identity. Delving a little deeper into these specific images, Parkinson’s biography and the history of 1950s Britain has been great fun.

What prompted you to choose this subject?

The topic stemmed from a mixture of previous interests and pure chance. I had no pre-conceived idea of what I wanted to look at for this dissertation. However, I always studied World War II and the Cold War when I had the chance as an undergraduate, so I knew I wanted to stick within that time frame. Couple this with my love of 1950s fashion and elegance, and the random selection of a beautiful book on Norman Parkinson whilst browsing the stacks at the Courtauld and – ta dah! – the dissertation title was born. I had also wanted to be practical about my choice and choose a topic that would enable me to make the most of London based archives. Norman Parkinson has his own in south London (big shout out to the lovely and wonderful people that work there!), so it all came together beautifully.

Norman Parkinson Archive

Most interesting research find thus far?

I believe I read in Parkinson’s book that Irving Penn babysat Parkinson’s son. As you do. No big deal. On a more serious note, I am still continually blown away by how clever his images are. They seem so simple at first glance, and then, the more you look, the more you realise just how good he was in expressing a certain image, feel or identity to a wide range of readers. This was especially interesting with regards to the way in which his photographs for a 1951 South Africa spread differed, or were used in a different way, from the May edition in British Vogue to the July edition in American Vogue. On a side note I have become obsessed with an image that I’m not even using in my essay. It is just too stunning. Everyone- google “Carmen’s Armpit” and you will understand! Or not, in which case it is just my inner dress history nerd coming to the fore…

Favourite place to work?

I would love to say that it is The National Arts Library in the V&A. It surely wins the award for most aesthetically pleasing place to study- but I tend to be freezing cold in there, so sadly it loses out. I rather fluctuate between the Courtauld Book Library and my home. This arrangement provides the perfect balance between the comfort of home (sneaking a couple of biscuits and copious amounts of tea) and the beautiful comradeship between all Courtauld students during dissertation time in the library. We all really share the stress and joys of the process and that is unbelievably valuable as you are working. *Insert cheesy violin music here!*

Courtauld Library

Dissertation Discussion: Yona

The finale of ‘Billy Rose’s Aquacade’, 1939. Romano Archives.

What is your title?

Billy Rose’s Aquacade & The Search for American Identity

The ‘Aquagals’ dressed as the Statue of Liberty, 1939. Romano Archives.

What prompted you to choose this topic?

For my dissertation, I am looking at American identity in the costumes of ‘Billy Rose’s Aquacade’, which performed during the 1939 and 1940 New York World’s Fair. Not being aware of the Aquacade’s existence until recently, I came across this topic by chance. During the past year, I have spent considerable time researching American fashion and identity and knew I wanted to continue exploring the subject. When looking for an American film clip archive, I came across the Prelinger Archive, which was founded by Rick Prelinger in 1982 in New York City and consists of around 60,000 ephemeral films. The archive contained amazing amateur films of the New York World’s Fair, which also showed the Aquacade. The Aquacade was the most extraordinary show that I had come across for a long time. Its vast array of different acts included synchronised swimming, diving, dance, skating, fashion, clowns, and performances by important athletes of the time, including Esther Williams and Johnny Weissmuller. Due to its extravagant declarations of Americanness, the Aquacade provides invaluable insight into American identity around the start of World War II.

A birds-eye view of the Aquacade, 1 September 1939. Vogue Archive.

Most interesting research find so far?

One of the most exciting parts of my research has been analysing the use of the American flag and American symbols as an expression of American identity in the Aquacade. During the first New York World’s Fair season, World War II broke out in Europe. Even though the United States did not enter the war until 1941, the American government realised that the US needed a defined identity to be able to unite its people in patriotism. As the US did not have strongly embedded traditions and copied European ideas and design styles until well into the 20th century, identity had to be based on something other than traditions that could be considered unequivocally American. Therefore, American identity focussed on history and symbols, including the American flag and the Statue of Liberty. The Aquacade incorporated the colours, stripes and stars of the American flag in its costumes and props, and even showed 48 dancers dressed as the Statue of Liberty – one for each state (Alaska and Hawaii only became states in 1959).

Four of Billy Rose’s ‘Aquabelles’ stage a fashion show of the past, present and future bathing suit styles at the New York World’s Fair, July 4, 1939. Getty Images.

Favorite place to work?

Even though I am writing on an active performance with important athletes, I have barely moved myself since starting my dissertation work. I have always preferred writing at home as I like the comfort and endless supply of tea and prefer not to have any distractions. As such, I have been living like a hermit, only leaving my room for food and tea.

Dissertation Discussion: Barbora

My three bibles for the past few months: D.V. by Diana Vreeland, Allure by Diana Vreeland and Memos: The Vogue Years edited by Alexander Vreeland

What is your title?

“Fake It!” Examining the myths and realities in the life and work of Diana Vreeland.

What prompted you to choose this subject?

Ever since I’ve watched The Eye Has To Travel for the first time, I was fascinated by Diana Vreeland and the way she shaped the industry almost singlehandedly. Her stories, too, are quite something: Vreeland, her sister and nanny were the last people to see the Mona Lisa before it was stolen in 1911; Charles Lindbergh flew over her garden on his first trans-Atlantic flight; she almost took down the British monarchy when Wallis Simpson came to her lingerie store to order some special garments for her first weekend away with the Duke of Windsor, Prince Edward; and she attended Hitler’s birthday party in the early ’30s, sending a postcard to her son afterwards with the note “Watch this man.” Apparently so, anyway. I wanted to find out more about what prompted her to create such an extreme background for herself, the reason behind all the myth and fantasy which surrounded her, the obsession with “faking it” and everything else about her, really. Actually, I think I fancied the role of a detective for a few months, attempting to untangle what really went on in her head and her life.

‘Vogue’ December 1, 1965 Cover | Wilhelmina Cooper by Irving Penn | Diamond cage deisgned by Harry Winston (‘Memos: The Vogue Years’)

‘Vogue’ July 1, 1969 | Veruschka by Irving Penn (‘Memos: The Vogue Years’)

Most interesting research find thus far?

I was lucky enough to go to New York to visit the Diana Vreeland Papers Archive at the New York Public Library. Flicking through the original pages of her teenage diary, handling her passport and birth certificate (the date of her birth is no longer a mystery!) and finding out what she was up to on a day-to-day basis through the Smythson leather diaries she kept between 1950 and 1985 was quite amazing. There are some peculiar entries where Vreeland notes when she is due to start her pills – once green, then yellow, then pink. Very intriguing. Sadly, I only had two days in New York and so could only go through four boxes out of the sixty-something the library has. Might have to go on another trip soon! I think about a month should do it, mainly because Vreeland’s handwriting makes it quite a challenge to decode what she was actually trying to write down. Oh, and one more thing: the Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue online archives are very dangerous if you don’t have much time – they suck you in!

‘Vogue’ April 15, 1969 | Bert Stern (‘Memos: The Vogue Years’)

Favourite place to work?

I got into a very bad habit of working from my bed. So most of the time I can be found there, surrounded by mounds of paper, pastel-coloured highlighters and books. If I manage to persuade myself to face the outside world, I head to Starbucks (but only one that has comfortable armchairs or sofas!), and have a huge mug of soy matcha latte. I fear to look at my bank statement and find out how much I spent at Starbucks in the past couple of months. And there’s still time to go… Strangely, I find libraries quite distracting, but in Starbucks I get the work done.

Starbucks should probably have its mention in my acknowledgements as the place which provided constant fuel for all the writing.

What my bed looks like most of the time now. Also, pastel-coloured highlighters are a must, as is colour-coding!

Dissertation Discussion: Dana

Model Anne Saint-Marie wearing cinnamon brown wool tweed evening coat, lined in black satin over matching black satin dress. © Horst P Horst for Vogue Oct, 1959. Getty Images

What is your title?

I’m very bad at coming up with titles and I’m still working on mine, but the working title is ‘Relationships Between Body, Fashion and Furniture: The Modern Chair in Mid-Century Photography.’

Model Anne Saint-Marie wearing cartwheel pyjamas as pants, of printed silk shantung in flowers of orange and red. Shown with white sleeveless linen top and strap sandals. © Horst P Horst for Vogue June, 1957. Getty Images

What prompted you to choose this subject?

I’ve always had very broad interests, academically and personally, that range between ancient and medieval art to modern design and fashion, so I really wanted to do something different and wanted to explore further (although I was hesitant to do so at first). I also have a soft spot for furniture, especially Mid Century Modern chairs, sofas and daybeds, so it wasn’t a very difficult decision to make. But the moment I decided that I wanted to talk about furniture and fashion was during our class trip to New York. Not only was there an exhibition on Bauhaus interiors (another soft spot) at MoMA, but also, on our visit to the FIT archives, I realized that we were all sitting on 1975 Eames chairs for Herman Miller, which to the amusement of my classmates, got me very excited. That is when I thought I had to!

Anne Gunning-Parker wearing shantung pajamas with watermelon slice design reclining on couch with dog and unidentified man seated next to her. © Horst P Horst for Vogue May, 1954. Getty Images.

Most interesting research find thus far?

There has been so much! But the most interesting find was seeing how most of the 1950s images I’ve been looking at portrayed men and women sitting for a photo (more specifically husband and wife). Unless the shot portrays them working (as some portraits from Charles and Ray Eames), the man is usually positioned behind the woman (most likely standing), more pensive. The woman usually sits on a sofa (a tad reclined – but never too comfortably). This creates a dichotomy between the man and the woman portrayed, of vertical and horizontal lines.

Paul McCobb among his furniture, 1956. Photographer not stated. Getty Images.

Favourite place to work?

I’m not a library person anymore, so usually spend most of my time at home or in coffee shops (where coffee is allowed). But I’ve gone to my parent’s house in Madrid for a couple weeks and my favourite place to work here would be the library at the Costume Museum as it’s always quiet, cool, and has glass walls with views to their garden (which is pretty amazing).

Highlights from the Courtauld’s History of Dress Journal Archive: Vogue Paris

We are just one week away from our conference Reading Fashion Magazines: Celebrating The Courtauld’s History of Dress Journals Archive! Upcoming blog posts will offer a sneak peek into ‘Addressing the Courtauld’s Fashion Magazines,’ an exhibition held in conjunction with the conference. Be sure to book a ticket here to see amazing speakers and beautiful magazines. Remember: Digital images are nice, but nothing beats seeing the real thing!


Double page spread photographed by Guy Bourdin, Vogue Paris, April 1976. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.

This double page spread is part of a nine page fashion story by the photographer Guy Bourdin, displaying the new ‘sporty and young’ swimwear and summer fashions for 1976. The first fashion story in Vogue Paris’ ‘spring special’, it follows advertisements for Missoni, Versace, Etro, Yves Saint Laurent, Celine, Charles Jourdan, Bally and Jacques Heim. It precedes another, shot by David Bailey, and editorials on how to confront the beauty-depressing effects of winter, 10 new methods to re-discover joie de vivre as well as an extensive story on Greece, in celebration of the country’s new membership of the European Common market.

Five girls in bikinis lay outside to catch the sun’s rays in an unusual setting – usual that is, for the pages of luxury magazine Vogue. Far from an idealised, exotic location, five girls stretch out across a cracked and dusty pavement as a bus passes by, in barely-there bikinis, ‘so small that they may be held in the palm of the hand’. Sunglasses discarded, each holds a light-reflecting silver board up to their face in order to achieve a faster, stronger tan. In a further spread, models climb a fence in search of a sunnier spot past a shaded avenue palm trees, and in another, recline on a narrow strip of grass between a tarmac highway and Sears warehouse, their languor contrasting with the fully clothed figure rushing past. Breaking up the location’s horizontal lines – the bus’ branding, wall and pavement’s edge – the models are made individual by the bold colours of their bikinis and different hairstyles. They are conceivably a group of normal girls, taking advantage of the first signs of summer in the city where they live.

Cover of Vogue Paris, April 1976. History of Dress Collections, Courtauld Institute of Art.

Vogue Paris’ editor-in-chief, Francine Crescent, gave her photographers a great deal of creative freedom. With Bourdin, this enabled him to exploit the features of the magazine as a material object. He was the first photographer to bear in mind the potential of the double-page spread when taking his images; all but one of the images that make up this story extend past the gutter and bleed to the very edges of the magazine. Bourdin is mindful of the way a magazine falls open, laid on a table, or across a reader’s thighs. His models are carefully spaced in order not to distort their figures at the centre of the spread where the pages naturally curve inwards to their binding. A wall or fence is often at the centre of the image, setting up a contrast between the two halves of the image. The effect is fully immersive; the picture being larger, more of the scene may be seen in greater detail, more figures included, more of a narrative told. The glossy-light reflecting paper the images are printed on adds to Bourdin’s emphasis on sunlight and shade. Viewed in April, together with features on post-winter revival, Bourdin directly addresses the reader’s desire to shed heavy coats and insulating layers with bare flesh and warm colours. As the reader holds Vogue in their hands, they are within their grasp.

Horrockses Fashions: Fun, Feminine, Fifties

Vogue UK February 1949. Image courtesy of lancashirebusinessreview.co.uk

If the thought of summer dressing makes you think of cotton floral frocks with full swingy skirts you may have Horrockses to thank for that image.  One of the most popular dress lines in Britain and in America in the late 40s and 50s, Horrockses Fashions was known for its cotton prints manufactured in their own mill in Preston, Lancashire.   The mill dated back to 1791 and by the early 20th century was established as a trusted manufacturer of cotton goods, mostly household linens.  To expand their sales of manufactured goods into the lucrative fashion market, the parent company Horrockses, Crewdson & Co. Limited launched the Horrockses Fashions ready-to-wear line in 1946.  Horrockses had the goal of increasing desirability for their fabrics and then satisfying the demand with their own products.  Their vertically integrated business model ensured commerce at multiple points in the market.

Horrockses dress, 1957, V&A

Horrockses dress with bows, 1951-58, Bowes Museum

Horrockses Fashions were best known for their day dresses though they also produced housecoats, beachwear, and evening dresses.  As these examples show, there came to be a distinctive Horrockses silhouette for the dresses consisting of full skirts, tailored bodices, and defined waists which shows the influence of Christian Dior’s New Look that debuted in 1947.  Floral patterns, particularly roses, bows, and bands of print or bayadere, were signature motifs repeated every season which also borrowed heavily from Dior’s aesthetic.

Horrockses dress with bayadere design, 1953, V&A

To mitigate against the low-end connotations of mass-produced clothing, Horrockses carefully followed the lines, silhouettes and trends of the couture collections shown in Paris and London.  Cottons were accessible fabrics that had the weight and drape to create the New Look silhouette but with a softer, more casual result.  The dresses were made of high-quality cottons which were washable much like synthetics on the market.  Horrockses thus combined the easy-care of sportswear with tailored, sophisticated cuts associated with couture to bring the consumer “the best of both worlds.”

Horrockses evening dress featured in Vogue, January 1956

Horrockses Fashions differed from Dior and other couture houses in their frequent use of bright, playful prints which were generally highly stylized and abstract.  The company avoided unsophisticated connotations with their prints by aligning them with art, using exclusive designs by leading British artists including Eduardo Paolozzi, Graham Sutherland, and Alastair Morton.

pp. 96-7 of Horrockses Fashions: Off-the Peg Style in the 40s and 50s showing a design by Eduardo Paolozzi

At the symbolic level, voluminous skirts signalled plenty while the summery florals bring associations of vacations, resort, and weekend leisure which put the dresses at a clear remove from workwear.  Instead, Horrockses dresses correlated escape, fun, and exuberance with style, elegance, and femininity.  In the British post-war context, with rationing still in place into the early 1950s, Horrockses dresses were viewed as a splurge for an occasion such as a honeymoon.  In the American import context, however, Horrockses Fashions fit in perfectly with the broader cultural landscape of social change in the 1950s when the country prospered economically and disposable income increased across class strata.  The economic boom brought increased choices in manufactured goods which in turn increased consumerism.  An accompanying urban out-migration led to the rapid development of suburbs and the American dream of home-ownership became a reality for many.  Suburban houses came with front lawns and backyards where barbeques, pool parties, and gardening took place, providing a lifestyle scenario complementary to the look of Horrockses dresses.

Horrockses advertisement, Vogue, June 1950. Image from Christine Boydell, Horrockses Fashions: : Off-the-Peg Style in the 40s and 50s

The colourful aesthetic of Horrockses Fashions reflects the circulation of intensely saturated color images in print and film due to Kodachrome and Technicolor processes.  The wide scale of the skirts, too, abundant with fabric, seem to reflect the various widescreen film formats that enticed audiences into movie theatres and drive-ins to see historical epics, westerns, and melodramas.  Full-skirted, brightly-colored, patterned dresses such as those of Horrockses are like costumes for living life as it was depicted on screen: monumental, colourful, dramatic.

Model Barbara Gaolen in a Horrockses evening gown, Vogue October 1952

Horrockses dresses typically were produced in runs of 1,000-1,500.  Despite being mass-produced, the Horrockses ready-to-wear line had an air of exclusivity established through use of select retailers, exclusive prints, quality fabric, and well-cut and designed garments.  The image of quality always tied back to their own cotton manufacturing.  Horrockses Fashions advertisements regularly featured the sub-heading, “in fine cotton” under the brand name, underscoring excellence in their product.  The eminence reserved for couture was also accorded to Horrockses dresses in some measure by its royal selection.  Images of Queen Mary at the Horrockses showroom in Hanover Square and of Princesses Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth II) and Margaret wearing the dresses cemented the company’s image as respectable, feminine, and desirable.  Editorial features in top fashion magazines also buoyed up Horrockses reputation as fashionable.

Though the name Horrockses might not be familiar to many today, their legacy is alive and well in contemporary fashion.  In a Telegraph article by Katherine Rushton on April 20, 2013, the impending sale of the Horrockses company was discussed.  The article states, “Horrockses vintage dresses had tapped into a growing demand for prom outfits, and that there was strong demand for newer versions…’These dresses are going on eBay for £250 each, they are part of Britain’s heritage.’” Hit television show Mad Men also likely whetted consumer appetites for mid-century style.  It is not surprising then that in the past year, ready-to-wear line Maje featured lace dresses with “puff-ball” skirts in a bayadere style and Ines de la Fressange’s S/S 2017 line for Uniqlo featured full-skirted dresses in floral and gingham patterns, similar to what it has done in recent seasons.  The Horrocks label was briefly resuscitated as a housewares line that sold at House of Fraser.  Exhibitions of Horrockses Fashions have been mounted at the Harris Museum, Preston (2011) and the Fashion and Textile Museum, London (2010).

Maje’s Rayela dress from the A/W 2016-17 season featuring a full skirt and bayadere design, image from uk.maje.com

Further reading:

Boydell, Christine.  Horrockses Fashions: Off-the-Peg Style in the 40s and 50s. London:  V&A Publishing, 2010.

Burden, Rosemary and Jo Turney. Floral Frocks: The Floral Printed Dress From 1900 to Today. London: AAC Art Books, 2007.

Arnold, Rebecca, ‘Wifedressing: Designing Femininity in 1950s American Fashion,’ in Glenn Adamson and Victoria Kelley, eds., Surface Tensions: Surface, Finish and the Meaning of Objects, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2013), pp.123-33.