The Final Cut


Elizabeth Hawes, 1948

This is not ‘adieu’ but merely ‘au revoir’.  I am in the final week of my Stateside adventure and it is with a heavy heart that I will wave farewell to the Bard, to West 58th Street where I have set up camp, and to Manhattan.  How to sum up the past three months?  In words, there are superlatives: ‘amazing’, ‘thrilling’, ‘invigorating’, ‘fun’, ‘fruitful’, ‘challenging’, ‘surprising’, ‘productive’, ‘profound’.  In figures: a dozen seminars, two symposiums, two book launches, at least ten exhibitions, countless hours in the archive and some six hundred or so photographs, twenty blog entries and almost twelve thousand words of a journal article (but who’s counting?)

The Style Stakes Project will take a pause for breath while I get back up to speed with life in Manchester.  But the project will continue, or, more specifically, my research interests in the 1930s, Elizabeth Hawes, spectator dress and equestrian wear will run and run.  I have several, very interesting, irons in the fire (they call that a ‘teaser’ in the marketing world).  One project that has a definite shape is a return to the USA funded by the National Sporting Library & Museum, Virginia.  I am acting as Consulting Fellow to  its forthcoming Sidesaddle exhibition and will be giving a lecture on ‘Mad Caps and Mannequins: Equestrian Fashion in the NSL&M Collection’ as part of the symposium on 15th March 2014.  Do come along if you find yourself in the neighbourhood.  Another confirmed engagement is the symposium (yes, another!) at De Montfort University, Leicester, England, which will mark the launch of a special issue on fashion of the Sport In History journal, to which I have contributed an essay.  The symposium is slated for 31st October, 2014 and will be hosted by the International Centre for Sports History and Culture.

And so, until the next time, I think it is appropriate to end with some words from Elizabeth Hawes herself.  The final paragraph from her very own, Fashion is Spinach (1938: 336-7), provides a suitably colourful, memorable, flourish:

“The American woman has been laboring under an excess of fashion for only a few decades.  By and large she has shown herself able to cope with the exigencies of life as the need has arisen.  When she felt the time had come to vote, she saw to it that she was permitted.

Eventually she will look inside Fashion’s bright cellophane wrapper before she buys the contents.  She will seriously consider the quality and the usefulness of the very newest thing, the epitome of all chic, the height of all glamour.  She will settle comfortably back in an old sweater and skirt and idly remark to ninety percent of what she sees: I SAY TO HELL WITH IT.


Hot Off The Press


Cover image from Hawes’s ‘Why Is A Dress?’ (1942) featuring typically stylish graphics.

Following in the footsteps of Liz Hawes as that most wily of self-publicists, it seems appropriate to give word of my latest publication, which hit the bookshelves today.  The book is Fashion, Design and Events published by Routledge and is edited by Williams, Laing and Frost.  I’ve contributed the second chapter, which bears the title ‘A Dashing, Positively Smashing, Spectacle…’.  And actually it isn’t so incongruous to mention this latest chapter here because it does contain fleeting reference to Elizabeth Hawes.  And with a subtitle of ‘female spectators and dress at equestrian events in the United States during the 1930s’ the piece maps out much of the context, and lends inspiration, to my current activities here in NYC.

Hawes, of course, published numerous books throughout her lifetime.  The subject matter of these books reflected her varied interests and causes, such as gender equality, workers rights and fashion ethics.  Her titles included Why Women Cry Or Wenches With Wrenches (1943); Why Is A Dress? Who, When, What, Where? (1942); It’s Still Spinach (1954), and I’ve also been labouring over the multiple drafts of an unpublished manuscript from the 1970s, lodged in the FIT archives, and tentatively titled by Hawes as ‘Now That Fashion’s Gone To Hell’, which advocated gender neutral clothing.  I’ve blogged previously here and here on Hawes’s most celebrated tome Fashion Is Spinach (1938) and I am gleaning more and more information about the events, publicity and (to use a nice marketing-type of phrase) brouhaha that ensued following its release as I rummage deeper and deeper into the holdings at Brooklyn Museum.  The Hawes corporate press books from the era have clippings galore about, or with reference to, Spinach.  The NY Times best seller lists from June 1938 are pasted into the cuttings books, evidencing that Spinach was indeed a national hit The ‘out-of-town’ publicity cuttings show that Hawes went on a type of publicity tour around America promoting both her latest clothing collection and her book in provincial department stores.  Interestingly, Baltimore’s Evening Sun of Monday October 31st, 1938 described Hawes, foremost, as ‘the author’, adding that Hawes was to “present the caviar of her Fall/Winter dress collection at Hutzler Brothers Co“.  All of this is certainly testing my schoolgirl geography of US States.  Moreover, these press articles and adverts suggest that Hawes used her dual careers as writer and designer to bolster each other.  Fashion Is Spinach is referred to consistently by the press and seems to have become a value-adding factor in the selling of Liz’s designs but also Liz herself.

Fashion Is Spinach was published by Random House, the US corporate headquarters being just around the corner from where I’m living at the moment (if only they knew?).  I was utterly tickled by the copy on the original launch party invitation issued by Random House (and held by the Brooklyn Museum archives). As chance would have it, I’m attending a book launch this evening at the Historic Buildings Preservation Society.  I must remember to keep my hands to myself!

“Random House invites [ ] to a cocktail party in honor of MISS ELIZABETH HAWES to celebrate the publication of her new book FASHION IS SPINACH on Thursday afternoon, March the seventeenth at the establishment of Hawes Inc. 21 East Sixty-seventh Street.  There will be a showing of Miss Hawes’ spring collection at five thirty sharp.  Literary connoisseurs, possibly unfamiliar with such goings on, are requested to keep their hands off the models. R.S.V.P., 20 East 57 Street”.