Swans A-Swimming

'Sport in History', the journal of the British Society of Sport History, published by Routledge.

‘Sport in History’, the journal of the British Society of Sport History, published by Routledge.

Fashion designers are said to be only as good as their last collection.  And rock stars, only as good as their last album.  Does the same hold true for academics?  Are we only ever as good as our last article or book or lecture?  I’ll leave you to ponder the answer to that.

It’s a good twelve months (or more) since my last flurry of blog posts.  I wonder, have I been only as good in the ensuing year as my own last blog entry: ‘The Final Cut’?  Again, I’ll leave you to ponder the answer to that.

Just this month, the journal article I was chiselling away at in January 2014 whilst in snowstruck New York City (and reporting on its lumbering progress here) has emerged, swanlike, as a fully-formed publication.   Its swanful grace (if you can call it that) owes a debt of gratitude to the magnificant images that illustrate the piece and that I sourced at the National Sporting Library and Museum, VA.  How fortunate I’ve been to work on their ‘Gerry Webb’ collection, comprising thirteen, large, scrapbooks of sporting (equestrian) photographs.  Many of these were snapped by a professional journalist(s) who, even in the 1930s, produced some crystal clear, and compelling, shots that document fashionable men and women having fun on race day (among other things).  Glorious.

There’s an inevitable no-man’s land, a sort of literary interval, between packaging up a manuscript for a publisher and then, sometimes many, many months later, receiving the final, hold-in-your-hand, bookshelf-ready copy of a publication.  It would be easy to write here how that moment is so satisfying and gratifying (which, of course it is).  But engaging such well-worn cliches about ‘worthwhile effort’ does not capture the full complexity of what it is to go to press (so to speak).  In particular, that interval, that expanse of time, that lull, does peculiar things to written words.   So that – and for fear of getting a bit mystical here – the words that are returned to you in type-set, printing press and glossy cover form seem somehow strange, foreign and unknown.  ‘Did I write that?’ ‘I don’t remember saying that?’ There’s an element of forgetting with the passage of time.  But, too, there are other elements at play to do with ‘taking the ego’ away from the words, loss of immediacy, distance, removal.  At least, that’s what it feels like for me.

So, am I making a case here for writing as anti-climatical and, ultimately, rather disappointing?  Quite the opposite.  I wouldn’t be without it.  And, to ensure this particular blog entry ‘delivers’ as it should, here are all the details of that very journal article (and you may view it here)

Goodrum, A. (2015) ‘The Style Stakes: Fashion, Sportswear and Horse-Racing in Interwar America’ Sport In History 35 (1) pp. 46-80. Special Issue, Kit: Fashioning the Sporting Body.

Abstract: Despite an acknowledgement that, historically, the relationship between horse racing, women and fashion was important, existing literature provides little detail on the actual clothes that women wore as racegoers. The aim of this article is to add missing depth on the clothing of fashionable women at horse races, focusing on the United States during the inter-war period. In so doing, the discussion extends understandings of the history, and the material culture, of sporting spectatorship more generally. The article also introduces original work on the male spectator and his racegoing wardrobe. Climatic considerations to do with dressing appropriately for the great outdoors are discussed along with other influential factors on spectator dress such as contemporary fashion journalism and photography. The industry supplying fashion consumers was in transition at this time also and New York acquired prominence as a centre for a new mode of sporty, all-American fashion that was termed ‘sportswear’. As well as dealing with the clothes and the individuals who wore them, then, the article tells the story of the broader socio-economic conditions of American fashion, sport and sportswear that formed – and informed – their wearing.



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.