Janet Arnold Study Day - The Politics of Fashion: from Cromwell to Thatcher

Janet Arnold Study Day - The Politics of Fashion: from Cromwell to Thatcher

Saturday 03 October 2020

Is fashion political? In 2005 Joshua I. Miller published in a University of Chicago Journal an article called Fashion and Democratic Relationships. On page three he says this -“Clothing has political significance because it affects the relationships among citizens. Clothing is not simply a private or personal matter; it implies the existence of an inter-subjective social world in which one presents oneself and is seen by others” The ambivalence of fashion with, not only political but also social, aesthetic and moral systems has always caused much anxiety throughout the generations. The recent vicious attacks on MP Tracey Brabin for her off the shoulder ensemble in the House of Commons equated her appearance with perceived stereotypes. Women are regularly defied by their dress especially if they espouse to positions of authority or power. This study day will look at the part politics may have played in the fashions of the day or perhaps how politics has influenced what we wear.

This should be a fun day so wear your tartan or carry your Margaret Thatcher handbag.

We start with Pat Poppy, - an independent costume historian with a special interest in pre-modern history and re-enactment, Pat is also a long standing supporter and contributor to WECS.

Image and Reality: Politics, fashion and stereotypes of the Cavaliers and Roundheads.

The talk will examine the stereotypes we have of Cavaliers and Roundheads, both male and female, and how each generation/ century has re-interpreted them to reflect their own social and political situation. It will look at how their clothing has been depicted in 20th and 21st century film and television, and in 19th and 18th century painting. It will then look at where these stereotypes originate by looking at who was complaining about various fashions in the first half of the seventeenth century - mainly the Puritans. Which brings in the ideas of both Hic Mulier or the Man-Woman and Haec Vir or the Womanish-Man. Finally it will look at what was actually being worn in the mid seventeenth century, and how that does not necessarily indicate their political stance, and only occasionally their religious stance, but it certainly reflects their social status. As Arthur Dent put it, “one may be as proud of plaine apparel as well as of costly”.

Our next speaker is Rebecca OIds to tell us about The Isabella Project.

Researching her own wedding dress led Rebecca, of Timesmith Dressmaking, to organise the live performance of the recreation of the Isabella MacTavish wedding dress, which was part of The Wild and Majestic Exhibition at The National Museum of Scotland in 2019. The original dress was worn by Isabella MacTavish for her wedding in 1785 and is unique for being the only woman’s tartan gown dated prior to 1800 known to be in existence. It has been handed down through the family and was last worn in 2005. The recreation (not reproduction) was made by an international team of eight to illustrate the skills and working practices of skilled mantua-makers of the period, and utilised hard tartan cloth woven on an antique 19th century loom. The style of the dress and the construction methods used to achieve it give the nod to both the1740s and the 1780s, giving rise to the question as to whether the use of a hard tartan, by the 1780s an unfashionable fabric for dressmaking, was intended to convey political or romantic sentiments, or a nostalgic mix of both. In the recreation, the modern day mantua-makers uncovered a number of interesting problems encountered by the original mantua-makers during the course of the cutting and fitting and are delighted to share the ingenious fixes employed.

To start the afternoon we welcome Viktoria Iveleva from the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at Durham University.

‘Out of the blue’: What did Catherine II wear on the day of the coup and why does it matter?

Uniform as a means of identification and allegiance has particular significance for royalty and after Catherine usurped her husband to become Empress of Russia she understood the importance of her clothes. This work examines the origins of different attributions of the uniform that Catherine II wore on the day of the coup of 1762, and traces the importance of this episode in eighteenth-century culture by looking at various memoirs, by exploring the history of the Preobrazhenskii and Semenovskii regiments and their uniforms, and by studying royal ceremonies and the iconography of eighteenth-century portraits. The article also uses the lens of Pushkin’s novel The Captain’s Daughter to rethink this episode in the context of early nineteenth-century culture and Russian history and culture more generally.

Viktoria has published in her research areas of 18th-, early 19th-, and early 20th-century Russian literature and culture; Dress culture in Imperial Russia and Catherine II.

To bring us right up to date we then have Dr Daniel Conway, a Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the University of Westminster.

From Margaret Thatcher to Tracy Brabin: Dress, Fashion and the Hyper-Visibility of Women in British Public Life?

His paper explores the role of dress and fashion in the representations and construction of women politicians in British parliamentary and broader political/public life. The paper draws from Nirmal Puwar’s argument that women are conceptualised as ‘space invaders’ in the traditionally male, white and upper class confies of British parliamentary politics. This makes women hyper-visible and vulnerable to sexist, racist and class based criticism, with critiques that focus, in particular, on dress. The paper explores the complex roles of dress in gendered and political terms; dress can be an integral part of political action, identity and agency, but also a debilitating means for disciplining and as this it is one that a majority of women politicians resent. The paper focuses on the case study of Margaret Thatcher, who faced both critiques and used dress as a means of crafting her identity and enhancing political appeal, alongside other women politicians who continue to negotiate a fraught and highly gendered terrain of public visibility and scrutiny of their dress.

Daniel published Margaret Thatcher, Dress and the Politics of Fashion (2016) in Behnke, A. (ed) The International Politics of Fashion: Being Fab in a Dangerous World (Routledge) and is writing, with Professor Jutta Weldes (Bristol) a chapter on role of the Queen’s Dresses and British Public Diplomacy.

Event Programme

9.30 Registration with coffee
10.15 Pat Poppy - Image & Reality: Politics, fashion & stereotypes of the Cavaliers & Roundheads.
11.15 Coffee
11.45 Rebecca Olds - The Isabella Project: The recreation of Isabella MacTavish’s Wedding Dress
12.45 Lunch
14.00 Viktoria Iveleva ‘Out of the blue’: What did Catherine II wear on the day of the coup and why does it matter?
15.00 Tea and Coffee
15.30 Daniel Conway - From Margaret Thatcher to Tracy Brabin: Dress, Fashion and the Hyper-Visibility of Women in British Public Life’?
16.30 Close

Event Details

Event Date: Saturday 03 October 2020

Event Location: Widcombe Social Club, Widcombe Hill, Bath BA2 6AA

Maximum number of places: 90

Price Per Person: Member TBA, Non Member TBA, Junior TBA, Lunch TBA

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