Thursday 3 May 2012

Falling in Love - with 20s/30s fashions - Eve Edwards

I have a confession to make - I am not a fan of Downtown Abbey.  I know this might get me hounded off The History Girls site but I just didn't take to the first series (it was the three sisters plot and the 'evil' servants that annoyed me, I think).  I was rather more partial to the rebooted Upstairs and Downstairs but largely because I fell in love with the outfits worn by Lady Holland (sadly absent from series 2).  I am not yet in my golden years but, when I get there, I will not 'wear purple' but long embroidered shrugs over generously cut dresses - surely the best look from any period for older women.  All I need is the charming secretary (Art Malik), a pet monkey and title to go with the look.

Recently I have been expanding my historical research to the interwar period for a couple of writing projects.  So I have had reason to study more seriously what exactly was worn.  This has become a daily visual feasting on the pages of Fiell and Dirix's Fashion Sourcebook 1920s.  My character is going to such and such an event - I flick through the book and mentally dress her in the appropriate outfit.  The subdivisions are fascinating.  They had dresses for day, evening, bridge, tennis, afternoon, sports, 'the country', city, travelling, 'Spa Towns', Easter, cocktail, walking, for the races, mourning, bathing, motoring, as well as the more obvious seasonal wardrobes.

I think what draws me to these clothes falls into three parts.  First, the clothes frame either the wearer or the fabric - it is fashion as artist's canvas.  The hats - especially the famous cloche - do a great job in setting off the features of the models, emphasising character in the expression, not overwhelmed by a fussy hairstyle or wig.

Secondly, they seem so wearable.  Perhaps this is the first period in history where I wouldn't mind having to live in the clothes.  The brassiere was invented around then, saying goodbye to that old favourite of female torture-by-fashion: the corset.

My grandmother, Aline, photo from 1933
Thirdly, my grandmother.  Please note the fashionably bobbed hair with shingle.  She was a shopgirl in the 1920s working at the premier London department store, Dickins & Jones, serving - as she liked to claim - the stars of the silver screen and occasional royal.  She worked in a variety of departments, including the wonderfully evocative 'haberdashery', and used to regale me with tales about a time of dancing down the Ilford Palais, beaus, courting, Lyons Tea Houses, tennis parties - the Great Gatsby life lived at lower middle class level (or is it upper lower??).  I think in truth it was a hard life but she didn't dwell on that, remembering instead the romance.  When I stayed with her I was intrigued by her old fashioned clothes - the fiddle of suspenders, the oddity of 'French knickers' rather than Marks and Spencer cotton briefs.  She had a fur stole - something with head attached - that lurked in the wardrobe.  She feared to wear it in case the animals rights people took umbrage (the fact that it had died before WWII would not be a defence).  She carried the atmosphere of the 1920s and 30s with her like that stole thrown around her shoulders.  I already know this book will be for her in so many ways.

Do you have a favourite period for fashion?  Do leave a comment and let me know.

Eve Edwards

P.S.  Want to win a free copy of one of my books? Just tell me who you would choose from history to join you on a round the world balloon journey.  Post your suggestions here.  Closing date 31 July 2012.


Sue Purkiss said...

Fascinating - your grandmother sounds a marvellous character! My grandma had furs too: she was very much working class, but she always had an elegance about her that was in the style of the period between the wars, with little close fitting hats, long coats, and neat, shiny laced up shoes with a heel. Is the fashion source book you mention an old treasure, or something that's still available?

As for favourite period - I've always thought the dresses of the mediaeval period look lovely, comfortable and VERY flattering - but I haven't looked into what they were made of. Probably scratchy wool or something.

adele said...

What a lovely post! I remember Dickins and Jones very well indeed. Love the photo.

I'd choose the late 20s or 30s. But I also quite fancy myself in Paris in 1910 or so...loved the Downton Abbey clothes of the fist series, so pre-1914. Second series was good too, clothes wise.

Marie-Louise Jensen said...

I disliked Downton too - for exactly the same reasons. You are not alone.
I am currently very absorbed by early Georgian fashions. The pre-French revoltion costumes for the wealthy were so extravagant and splendid. But I'm not sure I'd actually want to wear them.

Marie-Louise Jensen said...

uh, 'revolution' obviously.

Sunny said...

great post ! for me the fashions of the 1920s, they were both comfortable to wear and liberating-no corsets. Would love to have worn hand beaded garments.Loved watching 'The House of Elliot' for the fashions.