Lily Batsford, Arts University Bournemouth, 2016 The Conference Student Bursary

My attendance at the Costume Societies 2016 conference would not have been possible without the support offered by a student bursary provided by the costume society. It was an incredible experience which I feel privileged to have been awarded. I am walking away with deeper understanding and a valuable insight into the professional industry. Thanks must also be given to the already well established speakers, whose expert knowledge has opened my eyes to parts of history I had not yet encountered. A fellow attendee suggested the weekend was like “opening pandoras box.” A mere glimpse showed you how little you knew and had yet to discover.

I started off the weekend with a tour around the People’s History Museum. The attendees and I were given ‘behind the scenes’ access with a personal look at the conservation room. They were in the middle of working on a 4 meter by 4 metre square memorial banner for a cardinal. It had been hand painted and the paint was pulling at the silk banner; slowly eroding the material that gave it structure and support. We got to see the painstaking process conservationists went through to preserve this piece of history. Covering it with a colour matched, hand dyed gauze - which is then hand sewn through the banner on to a backing fabric - this gives a more dispersed structure which relies on the strength of the additions rather than the original piece. We went on a further two tours with the conference: one at the Whitworth Gallery, where the conference was held, and another of the newest exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery, “Fashion & Freedom,” which explored the impact of the first world war in light of it’s one hundred year anniversary.
My first opportunity to network and meet other people was at the Pre-dinner drinks reception on the Friday night. I admit, as I walked into the room I was slightly terrified. As I stood and looked around, my tutor, E-J Scott, told me “we are in a room full of dark horses," and through out the course of the night I discovered how true this was. Each lovely individual held a wealth of knowledge far outstretching anything I had ever previously encountered. Everyone had a passion or specialty, but each connoisseur never once lorded their talents over those of lesser knowledge. Instead, they shared and explained, all happy to impart their wisdom to those wanting to learn. The fear before embarking on this adventure was my imaginings of a room full of intimidatingly smart people who would have no time for my own lack of expertise. Yet, all I had to do was ask “what do you do or specialise in?” and I would be met with the most incredible stories. I encountered a woman who had travelled around the globe, picking up design jobs along the way. Each time she ‘name-dropped’ a country, and saw the wonder in my eyes, there was a cheeky grin that would spread across her face. I met a university lecturer who has written books on corsetry, and managed to change my disapproving opinion of them in a single conversation. A Phd student told me of her research into translating Russian and Ukrainian folk law and how the study of dress history was helping her gain context for her research. So many stories were shared. So many things I never knew!

Saturday morning I arrived at The Whitworth Gallery for my first round of lectures. I was poised with pen and paper ready to capture every fact. The advice I had received for this segment was to be open to every single talk; that titles in my program could not be used to judge the lecture that would follow. This was much needed advice, as previously I had not seen the intrigue in ‘Early Modern Needlework Pattern Books: ‘Designs for Democracy’ or in? ‘The Rise of the Fashionable Mass Produced Blouse: 1914 - 1918, design, manufacture and consumption.’ Yet both of these held my fascination till the end. I saw their impact on the world around them and the people’s lives in which they were intwined. The speaker of both these lectures must  be thanked and congratulated, as they were incredibly engaging and informative.

I am often fuelled in my own research by emotional response to the occurrences of the past.  Recently, I have become fascinated with the impact of theatre costume with in the context of the first and second world war. How, through its familiarity and enchantment, it had a direct effect by subduing the emotional trauma caused as a consequence of the world wars. Hearing about how blouse manufacturers changed their product to suit the needs of women living through the second world war, helps lend perspective to how an event (like the mass mourning of a country) can lead a manufacturer to start making black blouses — therefore, leading to a change in British Culture for women in the clutches of war. Rather than subduing the trauma they found a way to make it profitable, consequently, the manufacturers changed the rituals of mourning.

I have left the weekend feeling armed with more knowledge, more contacts and an increased desire to learn. I would highly recommend this conference to anyone. It has furthered my love of dress history and introduced me to a community who love it too. I hope to return next year, and learn even more. Less terrified this time!

  • Lily Batsford, Winner of Student Conference Bursary 2016