Emmy Sale, Yarwood Grant winner 2019

By Emmy Sale

2019 Yarwood Research Grant, Emmy Sale, MA History of Design and Material Culture, University of Brighton

Inspired by my undergraduate dissertation which explored hand-knitted bathing suits in the 1930s, I was motivated to undertake a topic for my MA that would expand my analysis of the design and wearing of beachwear in the interwar period. From there, I chose to focus on beach pyjamas and developed a dissertation titled ‘Are We Really Going to Swim, Or Merely Decorate the Sands?’: The wearing of beach pyjamas at England’s south coast during the interwar period.

I was keen to explore beach pyjamas in relation to Cheryl Buckley and Hazel Clark’s call to expand dress history research beyond the fashion of the elite and towards the everyday and hidden histories. I wanted to shift the focus from the existing fashion history literature of beach pyjamas by the wealthy who visited French beach resorts and to explore more ordinary wearers of beach pyjamas as well as everyday situations of encountering them.

The Yarwood Award contributed to a trip to Leeds to visit the Marks and Spencer Company Archive and to attend the Everyday Fashion: extraordinary stories of ordinary clothes conference. This supported my research questions around the consumer demand and consumption of beach pyjamas amongst the lower socio-economic groups.

As part of my research methodology of an object-based and material culture approach, I visited Worthing Museum and Art Gallery, Chertsey Museum and Victoria and Albert Museum. Through case studies based on the surviving examples of beach pyjamas held in these archives, I explored the design, consumption and experience of wearing beach pyjamas through the combined use of visual, object and textual sources.

The British Newspaper Archive was a significant source for uncovering the contemporary social attitudes that were held about beach pyjamas. I analysed newspapers of south coast seaside places and found them to reveal both conservative and radical middle-class attitudes. This prompted me to explore the symbolism and meanings surrounding beach pyjamas to question why they were worn despite the negative attitudes they were subject to. I also compared the textual representations of beach pyjamas in newspapers and periodicals to explore the way in which they mediated aspirations, desires and advice surrounding the wearing of the garments.
Overall, my dissertation argued that the wearing of beach pyjamas was symbolically and physically conspicuous of leisure, liminal spaces and being on holiday.
I would like to say a big thank you to The Costume Society for granting The Yarwood Award 2019 to support my travel costs to various specialist archives, museums and libraries for the research of this dissertation.

[Editor’s note: the Yarwood Award title was amended during 2019 to become the Yarwood Grant.]

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