Wednesday, 8 December 2010

The woman behind the outfit

It's time to start putting a face to the character of my dressing room set project with Stoke Potteries Museum and Art Gallery.

I can't keep calling her 'the character' and to be honest she has really started to take shape over the past few weeks. Reading the magazines of her era has really put the objects we've found in the decorative arts collection into perspective. The irony is we will never see her face, or really know what she looks like, and I kind of like that mystery. What we will see is her style, her tastes and how she lives her life illustrated through her dressing room.

We know she's young, married and sociable. She's a film fanatic, adores the movie stars and dreams she can be like them. She, like many women from that era, was starved of new fashion for years both by the restrictions on materials and fripperies and by her social situation. So like many others she followed vicariously through magazines and films, reproducing and customising items if she could.

Next week I will have the opportunity of viewing the clothes, underwear and accessories that are housed in the decorative arts collection of the museum and making some decisions as to what she would wear. In the meantime I have been looking into ladies fashion from the late 1940's early fifties to try and find her style.

A McCall's pattern from 1948 were you can see the influence of Dior's New Look; a wider skirt and emphasis on the waist

I can see her wearing young clothes and trying to incorporate the latest fashions where she can. As Scarlett O Hara's mother said, 'It's only natural to want to look young and be young when you are young' and this statement could sum up her outlook on life too. Married to an older man perhaps she feels fashion is her defining feature, to keep hold of her identity?

The sailor style from the mid to late Forties, note the hats and gloves

A Hollywood Pattern pantsuit, very modern!

Fashions associated with Hollywood and the film industry would appeal to her immensely. In 1947 Horrocks Fashions Ltd (based in North England) was beginning to produce simple off the peg cotton dresses promoted by British film stars. Horrocks had read the public's craving for newness and change. One of the reasons for using cotton was that it had been seen as second rate material for so long during the austere war years. Now it was being publicised as a real fashion item to boost sales in Britain.

A long evening version of the Horrocks dress style

The Horrocks styles were dynamic and new, featuring yet again the narrow waist and full skirt which followed the Paris fashions. The prints were fun, colouful and bright. You can certainly see the embryoic style of the stereotypical 50's housewife in them. One of their selling features was the high quality of the fabric that was easy to iron and take care of.

Other clothes:
Stockings would have been hard to get hold of which leaves an opening again for dealings with the black market (see my last post) and fraternizing with possible unsavoury characters.

Hats and headscarves remained a popular accessory during and after the war. Headscarves were firstly used as a practicality for women working in the factories to keep their hair safe from machinary, but the style caught on and crossed all classes becoming a staple item for all. Even the Queen, then Princess Elizabeth, became known for wearing her headscarf tied under the chin.

Gloves were still big news and completed an outfit. There was still a definate ettiquette too. A 1948 edition of Vogue offered an article on gloves stating:

'Modern usage holds that gloves should be worn on occasions such as these: going to a formal luncheon, dinner, reception, or dance; in the streets of large towns and cities; going to and from church; going to official receptions or entertainments...a woman should always take off her gloves before she starts smoking, playing cards, eating, drinking or putting on make-up.'

I think my character would have adhered to these simple rules to try and define herself amongst other woman, especially if she read it in Vogue!

I'm not sure what we will find in the collection next week but I now have an idea to work towards in a sense of colours and personality. Oh and before I forget, her name... ... it's Mrs Brown.
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