Writing Fashion (Part 1)

A 2017 Costume Society conference review on the theme of 'writing fashion' celebrating 50 years of the Costume journal.

Shelley Tobin, Victoria Haddock, Hannah Vickers and Lottie Moss




The 2017 Costume Society conference began on Friday 30th June with an afternoon visit to the British Library, kindly organised by Amber Butchart. The two 'Show and Tell' sessions gave delegates the chance to view some remarkable pieces from the Printed Heritage collections of the Library. Seventeen period examples of 'written' fashion were displayed within the Conservation department. These pieces included a selection of fashion plates in 18th century ladies pocket books, volume 2 of the La Belle Assemblée (dating from January - June 1807) and a selection of fashion advertisements and trade cards from the Evanion collection (1884-88). 


What struck most delegates was the range of colours in fashion plates featured in the magazines, such as those in the Gallery of Fashion that had been hand-coloured to illustrate the current women's fashion of the Regency era. A book entitled 'Instructions on needle-work and knitting, as derived from the practice of the Central School of the National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the principles of the Established Church, in the Sanctuary, Westminster' (1832), had the sewing and creative members amongst our group praising the small, worked examples (that included bonnets and gloves) attached to the pages. These models would have been sampled by young women who wanted to try and gain the necessary skills to earn a living through needlework and knitting.


On behalf of the delegates who attended the sessions, I would like to say a big thank you to the staff of the British Library for their time and knowledge in helping to get the 'Writing Fashion' conference off to a great start.





The Art Worker’s Guild provided an evoking backdrop for days two and three of the conference. The room, which is surrounded by portraits featuring guild members, offered a spontaneous source of consultation during a discussion on the role that spectacles play in identity, after a paper by Dr. Gooding, (further information is found below).


Following a welcome from our Chairman Deirdre Murphy, the first speaker of Session 1 was Lucy Johnston, who has been working closely with the Thomas Hardy Collection. Her talk outlined the significance of dress (or fragments thereof) retained in the collection, and the many similarities these fragments hel d with passages of Hardy’s most well loved novels. It was interesting to discover that Hardy created sketches of his characters to illustrate the dress he envisaged them wearing, ensuring that the illustrator of his books would comprehend his vision.


The second speaker of Session 1 was Elizabeth Way, curatorial assistant at the museum of FIT. Keeping with the theme of the conference Elizabeth examined the literary work of two female African-American authors, who were writing from the late 19 th century into the 20 th , to investigate how respectability politics were related to dress. Elizabeth outlined that by African-American women dressing in a ‘respectable’ way, they were embodying an act of protest against the prejudiced white gaze of the dominant race.


The second session of the day kicked off with a discussion between Agnès Rocamora and Susie ‘Bubble’ Lau, one of the most prominent fashion bloggers in the world. She revealed how she started out in blogging – as a history student looking for an outlet for, “fashion on my own terms.” The conversation covered the broader phenomenon of blogging

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