Making? Whoopee!

Work in progress. Blocked felt crowns drying in the sun. Crown and brim workshop, Stockport Hat Works, May 2016.

Practice, practice, practice. Blocked felt hats drying in the sun. Work-in-progress at the ‘crown and brim’ workshop, Stockport Hat Works, May 2016.

As the academic year – with its teaching, timetables and general bustle – rolls to a close, I have found myself with time to turn to creative pursuits.  I have to tread carefully here in order not to be contrary.  I firmly, very firmly, believe that (academic) writing is itself creative practice.  For me, filling a blank page or computer screen with text is very much a making process.   But all too often and too frustratingly (and here I begin my manifesto), writing, especially of the academic variety is overlooked, or even misunderstood, as ever being a creatively-led production or as requiring deliberate practice.  Publishable, peer review-ready, words and sentences do not just fall from the sky (nor this professor’s fingertips).  Not at all.  Practice makes perfect.  And even then it still hurts.  (I’ll go ahead here, albeit reluctantly, and cite Gladwell’s spurious-seeming claim that it requires 10,000 hours* of practice to achieve mastery in any given field).

At school, we’re often encouraged to be scientific in our reporting and to attempt objectivity.  The academic world is  viewed by some as  being about the production of facts, of figures and – heaven forfend – the pursuit of truth.  The Age of Reason (back in the long eighteenth century) had a lot to answer for in this regard, since it gave rise to a scientific method that priveleged reality over myth (if you’ll pardon the philosophy-lite explanation).  The point I’m getting around to making is that theory and practice sometimes, too often, seem to inhabit different worlds and are pursued by different people as different concerns.  (Yes, that, too, is a vast simplification).  In many ways, I’m referring to myself  and my own situation here.  I’m acutely aware of the dilemma whereby I tend – or have tended – to write and to theorise about the (products of) creative process without being, well, very creative about it.  My thinking has been (somewhat) divorced from any making or the materiality of that which is made.  I’ve been busy producing words about things rather than producing things or engaging with them as things.  At least, not until fairly recently.

This dilemma between my positioning as a theorist and practitioner isn’t easily reconciled or quickly resolved.  The dilemma has, however, opened up a welcome and fertile avenue to explore further and I am inching along it little by little using a variety of means, as follows.

Firstly, I’ve been trying to become more familiar with some of the literature on practice-led research, creative knowledge production and materiality.  There’s any number of authors to go at in that regard from Heiddegger to Sennett.  Tim Ingold’s work, emerging out of anthropology, has been useful.  In his celebrated article, Materials Against Materiality (2007), he makes a compelling case for the study of things through a practical engagement with them.  He gives the examples of sawing logs, building a wall, knapping a stone and rowing a boat (and, invoking a similar thesis, Martin Heidegger, famously, writes of the hammer).  Discovery and knowledge about the material world is, for Ingold, about processes rather than finished products.  He asks (2007, p. 3):

might we not learn more about the material composition of the inhabited world by engaging quite directly with the stuff we want to understand…could not such engagement – working practically with materials – offer a more powerful procedure of discovery than an approach bent on the abstract analysis of things already made?

Interesting?  I’ve charted some of this terrain in a bit more detail in my latest essay (published THIS WEEK as part of my bigger The Dress Issue project).

Secondly, and to return full circle to the point at which I began this blog entry, I’ve dedicated much of the summer (so far) to making things (and particularly, but not exclusively, to developing my millinery practice).  I’ve been under the expert tutelage of Sue Carter and Marie Thornton, taking their excellent hatting workshops at both the Stockport Hat Works and, now that I’ve relocated to the hills near Huddersfield, The Millinery Studio, which, as chance would have it, is right on my doorstep.  I spent last weekend, for example, working with (read: ‘wrestling with’) a material called buckram in order to make foundation shapes for covered headpieces.  Success comes in small triumphs as a novice hat maker and I was delighted to win the close-fought battle of stretching, shaping and pinning the wetted, absurdly sticky, buckram into a form that was wrinkle-free yet suitably head-shaped.  Whilst Ingold may endorse working practically with materials, he says nothing of those materials intent on working against you.

*10,000 hours?  Apparently, that’s 90minutes every day for twenty years.  So, let’s get cracking.


The Dress Issue

My opening editorial essay in ‘The Dress Issue’ makes a dual claim that there is: dress FOR leisure and dress AS leisure. The latter includes the leisurely pastimes of knitting, sewing and the hobbyist craft production of clothing.

Hear ye!  Hear ye!  I’m delighted to announce that my latest publication has, finally, hit the bookshelves.  I’ve edited a double special issue of Annals of Leisure Research (published by Taylor and Francis) titled ‘The Dress Issue: Part One’ (out now) and (out in July 2016) ‘The Dress Issue: Part Two’.

Together, the two issues (vol. 19, no. 2 and 3) present ten scholarly articles (and one Critical Commentary from the sociologist and leading expert on consumption, Professor Steve Miles) written by academics from around the world (New Zealand, Australia, the USA and UK) and from a range of disciplines: geography, leisure studies, fashion and sport history to name but a few.  There is also an extended editorial essay, authored by yours truly, that offers a sort of manifesto for research on the connections between leisure and dress.  My proposition in the essay is that ‘leisuring dress’ and ‘dressing leisure’ are processes worthy of more sustained attention by academics (I take a further nine thousand words to elaborate the point in my piece!).  To read more, please head to the journal’s website and download a FREE copy of my introductory essay (and give my altmetrics a boost, too).

Articles in The Dress Issue, Part One are:

Dave Day, ‘Natational Dress: Functionality, Fashion and the Fracturing of Separate Spheres in Victorian Britain’

Kathleen Horton, Tiziana Ferrero Regis and Alice Payne , ‘The Hard Work of Leisure: Healthy Life, Active Wear and Lorna Jane’

Hamish Crocket, ‘Tie Dye Shirts and Compression Leggings: An Examination of Cultural Tensions Within Ultimate Frisbee Via Dress’

Jon Anderson, ‘On Trend and On The Wave: Carving Cultural Identity Through Active Surf Dress’

Katherine Dashper and Michael St. John, ‘Clothes Make The Rider? Equestrian Competition Dress and Sporting Identity’

The line up of forthcoming articles in The Dress Issue, Part Two (number 3, July) is:

Amy Twigger Holroyd, ‘Perceptions and Practices of Dress-Related Leisure: Shopping, Sorting, Making and Mending’

Sian Hindle, Rachael Colley and Anne Boultwood, ‘On Performing Art Jewellery: Identity Play As Leisure Activity’

Emma Spence, ‘Eye-Spy Wealth: Cultural Capital and “Knowing Luxury” in the Identification of and Engagement with the Superrich’

Michael O’Regan, ‘A Backpacker Habitus: The Body and Dress, Embodiment and the Self’

Dina Smith and Jose Blanco, ‘”I Just Don’t Think I Look Right In A Lot of Modern Clothes…”: Historically Inspired Dress As Leisure Dress’

As with so many artefacts (if a journal publication may be considered such a thing, which I believe it can and that writing can be posited as a form of making and a creative practice), the final product belies the behind-the-scene processes involved in its making. This has been a two-year long project (Windows Explorer reminds me that I circulated the original Call For Papers way back in February 2014) involving many collaborators, many words, many decisions and many hours of carving and crafting (not just on my part but on those of my contributors, peer reviewers and editor-in-chief.  Together, that numbers well over fifty experts). I hope you enjoy the combined fruits of my labours and those of my collaborators. Freshly squeezed and ready to imbibe.



'Dude Ranch Vacations' print advert for Northern Pacific/Yellowstone Park Rail Line, in The Sportsman magazine, March 1933.  (BNSF Railway Company)

‘Dude Ranch Vacations’ print advert for Northern Pacific/Yellowstone Park Rail Line, in The Sportsman magazine, March 1933. (BNSF Railway Company)

The more eagle-eyed of my followers will have noticed that a new-ish tab has appeared on The Style Stakes’ menu bar, a tab titled ‘Buckskin and Ballgowns’.  This is the name of my latest research project, which sees me taking up a month-long Viva Foundation Fellowship funded by the Autry National Center for Western Heritage in Los Angeles.  Very soon, I will be headed ‘out West’, to sunny California, to spend a blissful (and no doubt blistering) month in the archives at the Autry researching female dude ranchers and resort wear from the interwar period.  For a longer explanation of the project, click on the Buckskins and Ballgowns tab post-haste.

On the face of it, a project about dude ranch vacations (dude ranches being working holidays where Easterners could sample a version of cowboy life) may seem an obscure departure from my usual scholarly territory of riding dress, sportswear and American fashion.  But my forthcoming foray into ranch- and resort-wear isn’t so far removed from my regular interests.  In fact, it seems (to me) an obvious trajectory on my interwar, equestrian, female, fashion research journey.  Dude ranch vacations were, essentially, horse riding holidays and peaked in popularity in the 1920s and 1930s as Easterners sought respite from the agitations of modern living.  Dude ranches were opportunities for play and playfulness in the sublime setting of the great outdoors and the process of ‘dressing up’ for the West (to varying degrees of authenticity) was part and parcel of that escape from the formalities of (sub)-urban routine.  Dudes (the term used to describe, sometimes somewhat hapless, Eastern tourists) were often motivated and influenced by portrayals of the West on the silver screen.  The Hollywood movie industry was booming and the buying and wearing of a theatrical interpretation of ranch costume enabled dudes to perform the role of cowboy and bring their fantasies closer to life.

Travelling to and from dude ranches was all part of the exciting vacation experience, too.  Modern, luxurious, airliners and long distance rail routes catered for tourists making the journey West.  Many rail road operators teamed up with dude ranch owners to promote their related services and packaged these through enticing, richly-illustrated, promotional materials such as posters, print ads and brochures (and I’ll be working on some of these original travel brochures as part of my study at the Autry).  Indeed, these tantalising marketing images, which were featured in equestrian and sporting magazines of the day, were what first piqued my curiosity for Western riding dress.  As a researcher, seeing these, I began to realise that there were stories to be told about interwar riding dress beyond my studies of the East coast formality of hunting turnout, side saddle attire and show ring uniforms.  And thus, I too now am making my own journey West (in every sense).

Back in 2012, I very, very briefly referenced the three ‘nodes’ of dude ranch vacations, Western riding dress and rail road advertising in one of my published articles, laying the groundwork, I guess, for the bigger ‘Buckskins and Ballgowns’ project that is, only now, coming to fruition.  That article was a piece, in the main, about female equestrians and formal dress codes (titled ‘A Severity of Plainness’) but towards its end there are hints towards alternative versions of riding dress.  The most relevant extract refers to the Northern Pacific ad illustrated, top left, in this blog post, and reads:

“Riding holidays also emerged in another, very different, form during the 1920s and 1930s.  Dude ranch vacations were increasingly popular and opened up ‘The West’ as a viable destination and leisure space for Society women.  Importantly, the ‘Old World’ regulations of English riding turn-out were considered inappropriately uptight or ‘academic’ to use the words of Amory (1933, 47), in the more casual American ‘wild’ West.  This point is visualized in the imagery (see image, top left) used by Northern Pacific to promote ranching holidays in the Montana-Wyoming Rockies (The Sportsman 1933: inside cover).  A young woman is perched on a cliff top gazing across the wide open spaces of the West.  Her tousled hair blows, untamed, in the wind.  Her bright red neckerchief hangs loosely.  Her hands-on-hips stance is unchecked.  The freedom from centuries old Anglo-European codes is marked symbolically through her appearance.  She is dressed for riding but not in the traditional sense.  As much as the 1920s and 1930s were about the enforcement of long-held codes in riding dress, they were also a period in which conventions were re-written for the emerging spatial and sartorial territory of the American West (Albrecht, Farrel-Beck and Winakor, 1988).  The West marked a literal and metaphorical frontier for female riding dress.”

Citation: Goodrum, Alison (2012) ‘A Severity of Plainness: The Culture of Female Riding Dress in America During the 1920s and 1930s’ Annals of Leisure Research, 15(1): pp. 87-105.