Most costume dramas, whether on stage or film, tend to assume that fashions came and went in the past much as they do today. But it’s only in the last fifty or sixty years that there’ve been large retail outlets like Burton’s or M&S which have homogenised fashion. Before that, the latest thing must have impinged on ordinary lives much less, so that there would be characters in 1830 still groing around in the fashions of 1800, say. My grandmother in 1949 was still wearing the long duster coats she had worn in 1920 and Queen Mary looked like an Edwardian lady all her life: dying in the fifties, she still dressed as she had in 1910. Look at Ford Madox Brown’s Work: only the middle and upper classes are dressed in a contemporary way; the workmen, the flower seller and the poorer characters are dressed in what comes to hand – fashion doesn’t enter into it. Portraits, too, are deceptive as the sitters generally choose to be in their Sunday best.
- Alan Bennett, diary 13 April 1997
Here are some more very important things to form an opinion about.
1. Corsets: Not Anatomical Torture Machines After All from The Mary Sue, which aims to debunk the myth that corsets were all that bad, although I still think they were bad enough to complain about. The Hairpin also did a story about corsets around that time: I Don’t Need To Wear A Corset, and I realised both articles were in response to: Everything You Know About Corsets Is False by Lisa Hix, who has written a book about them.
2. Teenagers Wear Pajamas to School, Erode Moral Fiber of Society from Jezebel, in response to Why Not Wear Pajamas All Day? in the Wall Street Journal, which is in response to the fact that wearing pajamas is the latest teenage fashion in some parts of America. What they don’t know is that it was fashionable in New Zealand a decade back, when I was a university student. I suppose they think they invented it. (See also: How To Look Like Shit, which is all about looking effortlessly sloppy and it involves a lot of care and attention, by the way.)
3. 125 Years Of Holding Women Responsible For Laundry from Sociological Images is a series of advertisements for laundry products in which each of the people depicted is a woman. Are we surprised? Just once, I’d like to see a man (with no woman in sight) doing washing (adeptly and smilingly) on a television commercial… in a non-ironic way. I would totally switch to that brand.
4. How To Become A Fashion Eccentric, a handy set of guidelines from Slate Magazine.
5. Work At Home Wardrobes: How Bad Can They Get? from Huffington Post Books
6. Your Insistence On Wearing High Heels Is Ruining Your Life, from Jezebel
7. H&M Puts Real Model Heads On Fake Bodies, also from Jezebel
8. QMiltch: A New Fabric Created From Milk, from Lost At E-Minor (not a Simpsons plot)
9. High Heels Are The New Lipstick Index, from Jezebel, which is also useful if, like me, you didn’t actually know what the lipstick index was either. But you may have heard about the Hemline Index. Which is a myth.
10. Using Viruses To Dye Your Clothes, from io9
11. Researchers Create Fabric That Converts Body Heat Into Electricity, from Mashable Tech
12. Need to pay close attention to a tricky task? Try slipping on a simple white lab coat, from Miller McCune
13. Regular Dresses Too Regular For You? Try some hairy ones, from The Frisky
14. Why Do We Wear Clothes? from My Science Academy
17. How Clothes Should Fit (a guide for men, by the looks)