Warm Up Act

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Last week I presented some of my work-in-progress on fashion and horse-racing as part of the ‘Researchers Digest’ seminar series on my ‘home turf’ (if you’ll excuse the equestrian pun) at MMU.  The Series is jointly convened on a more-or-less monthly basis by MIRIAD and the Department of Apparel (Hollings) and the seminars are hosted at lunchtime in the suitably edifying surroundings of our new faculty home, the Righton Building on All Saints campus.

My presentation as part of the Series provided something of a prelude (perhaps ‘dress rehearsal’ is a more fitting term) for my rapidly approaching Research Fellowship in New York, looking at 1930s fashion and the American designer, Elizabeth Hawes.  My paper gave me the opportunity to begin to assemble some of my ideas around Hawes and to embark on what my undergraduate tutors used to call the ‘thinking through’ of a subject.  See below for a copy of the paper’s abstract:

The Style Stakes: Elizabeth Hawes and 1930s Fashion at the Races

High fashion designer, Elizabeth Hawes (1903-1971) was an outspoken figure in the development of the domestic American fashion industry.  In the mid-1920s, she began her career in Paris during which time she also filed journalistic reports for the US press on the contemporary Parisian social and sartorial ‘scene’ under the pseudonym, Parasite.   Hawes’ career as a writer and designer is well documented, yet a small number of fashion columns authored by Parasite for Polo, an American, male-oriented, sporting journal, have gone unnoticed in the historical record.  This paper presents these columns dating from 1932 and explores the broader connection they force between equestrian events (mainly horse racing), spectator dress and seasonal couture fashion.  Highly controvertible, acerbic and often bizarre in tenor, the content of Parasite’s reports give a colourful contemporary view of the winners and losers in the ‘style stakes’ on race day.  Yet, importantly, this paper contends that the Parasite articles contribute far more to sporting dress history than the documenting of what was, or should be, worn by female race-goers.  As a conduit between the rival fashion industries of Paris and New York, Parasite’s observations and edicts supply primary source material that mobilises a bigger contemporary picture – one of trans-Atlantic economic rivalry, of US national austerity and Depression, of a Made-in-America patriotic project, and a design revolution that crystallised the ‘American Look’.

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