An element of popular culture that I particularly like to study is fashion. Not particularly high fashion, fashion designers, or the fashion industry; but how styles and the clothes we wear have changed through the centuries and decades, and why? Why do we even bother to wear clothes at all (expect in cold weather to keep warm)?

Carnaby Street 1969. Click image for photo source.

When I was 16 I became a fan of everything 1960’s: the clothes, the make-up, the music, the icons, the television and the whole design. It wasn’t a conscious thing, but one day I realised that the styles and attitudes I gravitated to, were generally from this decade, and so I started to collect the music, old photographs and books about the era, and watch any and every documentary I could find about it. My parents unwittingly introduced me to a lot of it as they loved to listen to old songs themselves (60’s, 70’s and 80’s), and any television we might watch was more often or not an old re-run, often from the era, such as The Avengers, Doctor Who, Dad’s Army, Please Sir!, The Saint, and so on to name a few. Mary QuantFrom everything I learnt, the 1960’s seemed to me to be full of life, full of colour, and just a great time to be British (something I appreciated, being British myself). I was never particularly interested in the politics, or the world events; it was the popular culture, the styles and the fashions I was interested in, because this to me is how you really appreciate an era, through the small every day things that at the time are a given part of every day life. My own Dad was in his 20’s during the 60’s and that brought it all the more alive to me, as through my Dad, I viewed it that a part of me had lived through those exciting times too; and I could easily imagine what my Dad might have been like in his youth. Later the 70’s became a natural progression of my collection, followed by the 80’s (much of which I could remember from being a child myself), and then the whole of the twentieth century – The conservative early 1900’s; the Great War; Flappers; Art Deco design; the frugal days of World War 2; and the elegant 1950’s. But the 1960’s remained my favourite era. Until recently I even wore jet black eyeliner every day as a homage to the decade: though having a baby to look after soon put a stop to that!

Regency Dancing 1811. Click for photo source.

Modern history, however, is not all I am interested in. Previously to this, at age 13, I became a fan of the Jane Austen era, probably mostly due to the BBC 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. While my friends ogled Colin Firth, I wondered at the clothes and styles and hair and makeup. What make-up are the actors wearing, and would respectable women have actually worn any at the time the story is set? How did women in Jane Austen’s time keep control of their hair without the shampoo, conditioners and products we had in 1995? How accurate were the BBC costumes and dresses? Would they really have had such low necklines? Were the actors wearing corsets? Were knickers invented then??

Pride & Prejudice BBC Adaptation. Click for photo source.

Again, fascinated by the every day small things, I wanted to know in what ways in 200 years things had changed, and why and how? And how accurate was the adaptation in regards to costume? I do not call myself an expert, but I do (rightly or wrongly) feel offended in a way when designers get period styles wrong or confused when depicting any era, because these details are the things that make it real for me. In regards to the way the characters carried themselves, were people really so much more civil back then? Or was that just in Jane Austen’s world and imagination? I don’t know much about styles and fashions before the 1700’s, but it is something I always want to learn more about. One of my newest hobbies is actually making clothes myself so that I may gain the traditional knowledge and DIY skills that I admire so much in others, both historically and in the world of today. I’m also intrigued by the evolution of fabrics, and curious about what we may have clothed ourselves in in antiquity. I do and will continue to study the subject of fashion in history, even if it is simply by looking at old photographs, books, and magazines;,watching documentaries, old films, and old television; visiting vintage shops, markets and museums; or just by observing the styles of those around me. Fashion is a great subject, because to enjoy it, all you have to do is look. Links ‘Great Movie Actresses’ is a book by Phillip Strick bursting with photographs of Hollywood actresses from the 1920’s silent era to the 1980’s. The photographs featured are portrait and film stills sent direct from the studios to the Japanese movie magazine ‘Star’. The book is of particular interest to me because it displays the changing fashions and popular culture of the western world during the twentieth century.    

  • – Donna Flower specialises in and sells vintage, retro and antique fabrics.

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