The latest edition of the Costume Society journal is out now!

17 March 2024

In this week's blog post, we introduce the new Spring issue of the Costume Society journal, Costume, by sharing the abstracts of the articles included. The print copies have been sent to members, and the journal can also be accessed online.

Sitārah: Exploring the Transformation of Yemeni Women’s Dress Code over Time via Boushra Almutawakel’s Photography 

By Shada Bokir

Mother, Daughter, Doll collection and ‘Colourful sitārah’ are two photographic collections by Boushra Almutawakel (b. 1969). These collections aim to visualise the conservative grip on Yemeni women from the 1960s up to the present day. This article discusses the progression of the blackness of female covering caused by social, political, and cultural developments that are special to the Yemeni context. Almutawakel’s photographs celebrate the Sitārah, the traditional colourful Yemeni cape, which was altered into a black, shapeless garment through the ideological invasion of Wahhabism in Yemen, which has led to increased isolation and invisibility for women there.  

Borne out with Whalebone: A Late Sixteenth Century Farthingale Sleeve 

By Ninya Mikhaila 

An extant farthingale sleeve support and a silk satin sleeve to wear over it form part of a collection of garments still owned by the Willoughby family to which it originally belonged in the 1590s or early 1600s. This paper provides an insight into its history as part of the Willoughby women’s wardrobe and a technical description of its materials, manufacture and current form. Its construction matches contemporary documentary evidence for farthingale sleeves which were assumed to form part of elite dress. Evidence presented here suggests that the fashion moved rapidly through society and became a feature of ordinary women’s dress by the early seventeenth century. 

Wear and Tear: Life Stories and Sartorial Experiences in the First World War  

By Rachel Neal

During the First World War, 1914-1918, the British Army uniform provided an important tool in the transition from civilian to soldier and a symbol of a mass, collective identity. However, soldier writings from the war and post-war years reveal the more individual experiences of their uniforms and the intimate relationships that formed between their physicality and the materiality of the garment. Focusing on the uniform experiences of British servicemen during the First World War, this article explores the narratives recorded in soldier correspondence, diaries and life writing to discover how men, despite wearing military uniform, continued to express the sartorial identities and practices developed as civilians. The uniform was central to soldiers’ physicality and their writings show that the materiality of the uniform became a conduit for their sensory and haptic experiences of the landscape around them. Yet the uniform remained only a temporary sartorial shift and underneath, civilian identities and sensibilities remained resolute. Evidence of sartorial interventions and personalisation expose the attempts to ameliorate the fit and feel of the uniform. Shining a light on these narratives of the uniform on a more personal and affective level challenges us to reconsider the boundaries between uniformity and individuality. 

Dressing the Pageanteers:  the Local People and Theatre Professionals who Costumed Edwardian Historical Pageants 

By Ellie Reid 

The craze for historical pageants staged in Britain by local communities at the beginning of the twentieth century stimulated a wide-spread public engagement with historical costume. As well as thousands of performers, and tens of thousands of spectators, pageants involved hundreds of local people in sewing parties who spent months making the costumes required for these outdoor re-enactments of episodes of local history. This article investigates how pageant costumes were designed, made, or sourced, on the large scale required, and the cost implications this involved. Whilst costume designers were acknowledged, the employment of professional dressmakers and milliners often necessary to complete the work received less recognition. Florence Edwards (1875-1964) a professional theatrical dressmaker, is one of the few that can be identified. The role of the London theatrical costumier Willie Clarkson (1861-1934), a supplier to many pageants, is also examined. During pageant preparations, local people actively researched dress history, and in the case of Emily Ashdown (1865-1950), her interest led to a lifelong career as a dress historian. 

Regional Couture: The Interwar British Couture Fashion House Isobel (London & Harrogate) Ltd. 

By Hannah Wroe

Isobel (London & Harrogate) Ltd was the second fashion business established by Jewish immigrant Isobel Nathan between 1925 and 1940. Nathan had premises at 223 Regent Street by 1922 and later at 70 Grosvenor Street, London, but she had also established a branch salon and workrooms in 1917 in the fashionable Yorkshire spa town of Harrogate. This under-researched dress house has largely faded into obscurity. During this time, however, the Isobel label signified ‘British-made’ luxury fashion, and, focused on the home markets, Nathan employed over 450 workers nationally. This article examines Nathan’s business practice of northern regionalism; that British did not just mean London and its metropolitan clientele. Through examination of unpublished business records alongside both editorial copy and advertising from the period, this article identifies the Harrogate salon as pioneering move to reach a broader clientele, connect to British manufacturers and reduce the seasonality of the fashion trade. This article recognizes Nathan as a notable early British couturier in the interwar years who leveraged designing and marketing to her northern clientele to successfully service the home market as an ‘All British’ brand. 

One of the many benefits of being a Costume Society member is that you will receive a physical issue of each edition of Costume, as well as having online access to new and past issues. Find out more about becoming a member here.

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