5 Minutes with… Bethan Carrick

As the dissertation deadline looms, we’re spending some time getting to know the current MA Documenting Fashion students. Bethan discusses Donyale Luna, the ubiquity of blue jeans and wearing her grandparents’ clothes.

 

What is your dissertation about?

I am looking at BLITZ magazine (1980-91), one of the three ‘first-wave’ style magazines that began in 1980 along with The Face and i-D, and its articulation of cultural capital through its fashion pages. For the most part, I’m looking at the styling work of BLITZ’s fashion editor (1983-87), Iain R. Webb. He used visual strategies such as bricolage to forge the DIY aesthetic that typified street style and style magazines of this period.

 

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

I loved researching Donyale Luna, the first black supermodel. I wrote my first essay on her representation in Harper’s Bazaar in the ‘60s. Looking into Luna demonstrated the complexity of representing black women in magazines made for and distributed to white women. Whilst researching, I was reminded of the widespread criticism of Megan Thee Stallion and Cardi B’s song ‘WAP’ being ‘oversexualised’ and not appropriate for younger audiences. Black women in the public eye have continued to be exoticised and sexualised, but it’s a problem when they take control of their own representation? We’ve still got a long way to go, I think.

 

What is something you’ve read this year that you would recommend to anyone?

Like Lucy, Daniel Miller’s Stuff has stuck with me throughout the year. Miller and Sophie Woodward’s Blue Jeans: The Art of the Ordinary about the tension between ephemerality and ubiquity of the blue jean is another really influential piece of writing for me. Finally (sorry, I couldn’t pick one), I can’t go without mentioning Caroline Evans’ The Mechanical Smile, which is something I have returned to constantly over the course of this year.

 

What has been the most surprising thing you’ve learned this year?

One thing that surprised me is how little academic research has been done on the history of styling and stylists. Also, having read Carol Tulloch’s The Birth of Cool, I realised that there was room to expand and challenge the rigidity of academic writing. Tulloch’s more anecdotal writing was really inspiring.

 

What are you hoping to do next?

Have a (UK) holiday. Go shopping. Keep researching. Find a job. No real plans.

 

Has learning about dress history had any effect on your personal style?

100%. I am now more obsessive than ever about how each element of my outfit should match the other (colour, silhouette, style).

 

Favourite dress history image?

I love this image by Brassaï of a Parisian lesbian bar in c.1930 – especially because I realised that the woman to the right is wearing an ankle-length skirt. I find this fascinating. Was this an active choice to play with the suit, or was she trying to show that she was a woman as soon as she left the bar?

 

Brassaï, photograph taken at Le Monocle, Paris, c. 1930

 

What are you wearing today?

I am wearing navy blue platform Kickers, baggy dark Dickies jeans, a buttoned-up, grey collared polo under an oversized black knit jumper, and my grandad’s old white golfer hat. Library chic.

 

Where do you get your clothes from?

Mainly charity shops, eBay, Vinted or my grandma’s wardrobe.

 

Which outfit from dress history do you wish you could wear?

I love everything the ladies are wearing at the French seaside resort (I can’t remember the name) in Seeberger Brothers’ photographs: understated elegance.

 

How would you describe your style?

Grandma, but make it current.

 

Do you have an early fashion memory to share?

One day, when I was on holiday with my family and family friends, 7-year-old me decided that today was going to be the day where I debuted my new flowery Boden circle skirt that I had picked especially from the catalogue. I paired it with one of those jumpers that has a fake shirt collar and cuffs and used my sisters’ flowery belt as a scarf. I thought I looked very Audrey-Hepburn-meets-cast-of-Grease. I was so pleased with myself and asked my dad to be my photographer. I posed in front of a white wall whilst the wind was blowing in my hair. Everyone was staring at me, but I was LIVING it.

It’s Complicated: Our Relationship Status with Denim

 

Denim is a staple in many of our wardrobes. We wear it weekly, or even daily, not really acknowledging our involved and complicated relationship with this sturdy and versatile fabric. Our relationship with denim is like dating: at first difficult and tumultuous, developing into a beautiful and loving coexistence—only to eventually end in a split (sometimes even literally).

I will be examining our relationship with shopping for denim jeans, inspired partially by Kitty Hauser’s “Fingerprint of the Second Skin” (2005).

Shopping for denim jeans is difficult to say the least, in fact, I think it is something even people who love to shop find difficult. The process is exhausting. We enter a store, decide on styles and cuts that look appealing and flattering, grab a few different sizes and washes, and head to the fitting room—only to find out that in fact your usual size does not fit, and all of the styles are too long/short, frumpy, or unflattering. Not to mention at this point, you are drenched in sweat—getting in and out of denim is physically more demanding than one would think.

After these trials and tribulations, finding a pair of denim jeans you love is blissful. This process of selecting denim is deeply personal, laborious, and absolutely an investment of time and energy, much like the process of dating.

Once finding a pair, you are now set on a much longer and stable relationship with not just the pair of jeans, but also a company, style, size, and wash. There is a beauty to ordering jeans online that you know will fit and that you will like, without going through the tumultuous shopping process.

We then love and enjoy this relationship with our denim jeans. The versatile denim pants are worn time after time, accompanying the wearer through multiple seasons and phases of personal style.

Yet, like with any garment, our denim jeans give out. They rip at the seams or are simply too faded or worn out to wear any longer. You must then bid farewell to your beloved denim, and start the process over again.

Our relationship with denim is so intimate and delicate, yet the fabric is sturdy and strong. Denim’s longevity allows us to build a deeply personal relationship with these garments. The shopping is difficult, exhausting, and dreadful—but eventually, you find a pair you love and adore until it is time to say goodbye—a lasting relationship between denim and its wearer.

 

By Arielle Murphy