For today’s entry: no book! Last week I visited an exhibition called Women Fashion Power at London’s Design Museum, and for anyone interested in any of those three topics it is absolutely riveting.
The show looks at the history of clothes, including underwear: corsets are always a great interest here on the blog, including last Sunday's entry, and there are plenty of them on show here. There is more detail as the timeline heads into the 20th century, and the Museum uses magazines and photographs as well, and looks at the influence of film and TV on fashion.
There is another timeline looking at women in power from the earliest times – Boudicca - to modern times, and considering what they wore.
The third section of the exhibition is perhaps the most fascinating: the Museum asked 25 modern women to contribute an outfit each, and to write a piece ‘sharing their personal style philosophy’ - that's the display in the picture above.
Those taking part include Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor of Paris, fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, journalist Kirsty Wark and many other businesswomen, entertainers, and activists.
Among the other items on display there are suits worn by the former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who died last year. She was a great one for formal suits:
There were two blog entries on her appearances in fiction last year – in Alan Hollinghurst’s Line of Beauty here, and Hilary Mantel’s An Experiment in Love here.
Other blog entries of relevance:
- Louisa M Alcott argued strongly for Rational Dress in her book Eight Cousins – she wanted to put corsets on the fire.
- Fans of Margery Allingham’s Fashion in Shrouds – set in a fashion design studio – can be conflicted: key character Val is a hugely successful designer and businesswomen, but at the end accepts a proposal of marriage that some of us who love the book find difficult to swallow:
'Will you marry me and give up to me your independence, the enthusiasm which you give to your career, your time and your thought?'
- Virginia Woolf has some fascinating thoughts about women and clothes in Orlando:
Vain trifles as they seem, clothes have, they say, more important offices than merely to keep us warm. They change our view of the world and the world’s view of us…. Had [men and women] both worn the same clothes, it is possible that their outlook might have been the same...
- Dorothy L Sayers' alter ego Harriet D Vane has this to say in Have his carcase:
Were men really stupid enough to believe that the good old days of submissive womanhood could be brought back by milliners’ fashions? ‘Hardly’ thought Harriet ‘when they know perfectly well that one has only to remove the train and the bustle, get into a short skirt and walk off, with a job to do and money in one’s pockets. Oh well, it’s a game, and presumably they all know the rules.’
- Samantha Ellis’s terrific book How to be a Heroine, a look at our female role models (?) in literature would also make great reading for anyone interested in this area.
- Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes takes clothes very seriously – but that is so her young heroines can get jobs (dancing and acting). They are going to use clothes to get economic independence, freedom, the ability to do what they want. And, of course to get the name Fossil into the history books.
Women Fashion Power is a fabulous exhibition, very thought-provoking, but fun and informative at the same time. Highly recommended. The Design Museum is opposite the Tower of London on the other side of the Thames, and the exhibition is on till the 26th April.
PS I was lucky enough to go with my daughter: there were plenty of other mother/daughter pairs there, and it is the ideal way to see the exhibits – when it gets to the 60s/70s/80s sections you can lecture your daughter about which outfits you once had resembling those on show…. and she can laugh at you.