Saturday, 14 June 2014

A Short History of Culottes



Culottes seem to be making a reappearance in the fashion world this year. I keep noticing them in street style blogs and in magazines (although not yet in the real world) and have convinced myself I need a pair of my own. Although in the past I've had a love-hate relationship with the trouser-skirt hybrid in the past, thanks to those heavy brown culottes I was forced to wear at Brownies when I was 7, the new breed of culotte is stylish, modern and above all - actually comfortable!

So, with culottes on the brain I thought I'd delve into fashion history to find out a little bit more about these trouser-skirt concoctions.


Originally belonging to menswear, culottes described the close fitting knee-breeches worn by the aristocracy in the 18th century. The sketches above show two examples from the 1750s and 60s. At the time of the French Revolution, the revolutionaries were known as the ‘sans-culottes’ (literally meaning ‘no culottes’) as they rejected traditional dress alongside their rejection of monarchy and all it stood for.



Fast forward a few decades and we begin to see something resembles the modern-day culotte as we now know it. In 1931 tennis player Lili de Alvarez chose to wear one fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli's designs (above), causing quite a stir at Wimbledon! Culottes were comfortable and stylish, providing a new freedom for sportswomen who previously made do with long, restrictive skirts. It turns out culottes really were revolutionary!


Above is one of my favourite culotte-looks from the 1930s. A beautiful long skirt-style with a tailored shirt and beret to match. Of course, culottes were also considered the go-to outfit for a lady-like bike ride. Many vintage patterns show women sporting the modesty-preserving garments on bicycles and even motorbikes.


In the fifties and sixties and culotte hemlines begin to rise with the trouser legs becoming looser and wider, moving towards the more comfortable shapes of today. Although they still retained that sportswear vibe. I love the large pleats of these fifties patterns below.


With the 1970s the culottes moved ahead into more practical styling. Big pockets added a safari-style feel and they were often worn with a crisp white shirt to balance out the look. This Butterick dress pattern shows culottes worn in a Cowboy Western style - short, belted and ready for adventure.


1980s style culottes were unsurprisingly bigger and bolder than ever before. Here (below) is a heritage style take in a heavy tweed fabric. From here onwards, apart from a brief spell in the early noughties, culottes seem to have fallen of the fashion radar. Until now that is, where there are some lovely flowing silk versions in Whistles and Topshop. An acquired taste, culottes are most definitely the Marmite of the fashion world. But I think I've been converted.

And that's it for out whistle-stop tour of culotte history. Now begins the search for the perfect pair! I hope you enjoyed a more historical blog post - I love fashion history and am hoping to do more of these type of articles soon. I'll leave you with some 60s culotte-spiration. Have a lovely weekend! Xx

Friday, 23 May 2014

Charleston Festival: Part Two


Yesterday, (amid thunder, lightning and a lot of rain) I made the trek back to the festival to hear another talk. This time it was all about the 1950s. Rachel Cooke, the author of Her Brilliant Career spoke about what life was like for a woman in the midcentury. It was interesting to hear about the women she chose to investigate in her book, from architects to film directors, these women had fascinating lives. Writer Ben Watt also talked about his book 'Romany and Tom' which explores the lives of his parents, a musician and an actress, who struggled to live the lives they wanted in post-war London.

A lot of what I imagine of the fifties comes from the literature and plays I studied at university. I took a course called 'Angry Young Men and Women' which focused on the famous kitchen sink dramas such as 'Look Back in Anger' by John Osbourne and 'Saturday Night and Sunday Morning' by Alan Sillitoe. Reading these conjured up images of life in the 1950s as one of poverty, drudgery and a lot of laundry - not a fun time to be a woman. At the time these books and plays trod new ground as they shone a light on the working classes and the realities of everyday life post-war. 

However, this talk showed that for some women, the fifties offered up a life removed from the mundanity of household chores and one of independence and a rebellion from the norm. 

I enjoyed hearing about these differing experiences of the 1950s. Although I'm a bit too young to ever know what it was really like, my grandmother held down a full time job during the 1950s and it's great that these experiences are also being recognised and discussed.

I loved visiting Charleston this May. It's such a beautiful place wander around, soak up some culture and eat a lot of chocolate and almond cake (which was amazing!). Hopefully it will become a bit a of tradition.

Xx


Sunday, 18 May 2014

The Charleston Festival 2014 Part 1


Charleston Farmhouse is one of my favourite places to go to in the summer. Not only is it historically the meeting place of the bohemian 'Bloomsbury set' which includes my heroes Virginia Woolf, E.M Forster and T.S. Eliot, it is also beautiful house with a garden that comes to life at this time of year.

2014 marks the 25th anniversary of the Charleston Festival and despite living nearby all my life I've never actually been to the book festival due to school and university exams every May (thanks, education!). So this year I was determined to get tickets. I managed to nab a pair for Ian McEwan in conversation with historian Asa Briggs and another for a talk on the book 'Her Brilliant Career' by author Rachel Cooke.

So, on Friday I went along to the first of these talks. Although I've only read two of Ian McEwan's novels: Atonement and On Chesil Beach I nonetheless consider myself a bit of fan (Atonement is up there as one of my all-time favourites) and made sure to get a signed copy of Sweet Tooth.

McEwan was in conversation with Asa Briggs who is still writing history books well into his nineties. The talk was a great Bloomsbury-style conversation which covered everything from science to psychology, history to politics. I really enjoyed listening to this type of intellectual chat, it was one of those talks where ideas flow from one thing to another a great speed and my brain often found it hard to keep up with it all. I love conversations that link seemingly disparate things together although I think that post-uni I may have lost my skills of concentration! And I never thought I'd say I miss seminars...

Below are some photos from visit number one... stay tuned for Part II and all things fifties!

Xx





Thursday, 8 May 2014

Judith Kerr in Conversation


On Sunday I went to a talk at Somerset House which was part of the 'Pick Me Up' graphic art fair. The talk was so special because it was none other than Judith Kerr in conversation, the author and illustrator of wonderful children's books such as 'The Tiger Who Came To Tea' and 'Mog the Cat'. 

I have such admiration for Judith after watching a recent BBC programme about her. At age 90 she has had a long and exciting career and her childhood is particularly interesting. She escaped from Nazi Germany as a young girl to start a new life in England where she began a career in Textiles and  teaching. It was only after having children that she began to write and illustrate the stories that her son and daughter loved best. The rest as they say is history.

What I love so much about Judith's books is the sense of humour and imagination found in her illustrations. And hearing her talk there's no doubt that she has lost none of that sense of joy and passion for what she does. Judith is currently working on a new book 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' and was happy to show the audience a few of the proofs for the book. She also joked about the fact that she is mainly remembered for her first book 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea' which was first published in 1968, despite having written dozens of books since. It's a testament to her talent how well her books have stood the test of time and how well they are received by generations of kids.

I'm really glad I booked this talk and would really recommend to anyone to have a look at the Somerset House website as they are always holding small events of this kind as well as evening talks and screenings. I'm also am keen to get my hands on the recently published 'Creatures' which goes into detail about her life and career. If you're interested in seeing more of her childhood drawings then I'm sure it is well worth a look!

I hope you're having a lovely thursday! Xx

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Great War Fashion

I'm excited to share with you a book I've really been enjoying over the last couple of weeks. I first saw it in Waterstones a few months ago and kept going back in to have a sneaky read, finally receiving for my birthday a few weeks ago. The book in question is 'Great War Fashion' by Lucy Adlington and it tells the story of fashion in the years 1914-18. What with it being the centenary of the First World War this year, this is a particularly timely read and gives a fascinating fashion perspective. The book covers everything from lingerie to sportswear, wedding dresses to mourning wear - no stone is left unturned! 


The book itself is a pretty hefty tome and contains some beautiful photos, many from the author's own collections. I love the fashion illustrations from the likes of Vogue which show the beautiful fashions of the day in a bright array of colours (often ignoring the realities of war!). Alongside these pictures there are letters and diary entries and other materials although it's written in a way that's really fun and lighthearted. I've learnt so many interesting facts through reading this which I've been spouting at anyone who'll listen!



Another thing to mention is that there is a real feminist narrative which sits alongside the story of the clothes these women wore. From the suffragettes who sewed weapons into their clothing to the restrictive corsets and long skirts worn even during sport, 'Great War Fashion' paints a picture of women who both enjoyed and resented the fashions of the time. Wartime life really shaped the way in which these women dressed. Photos of girls in factory dress and Land Army breeches show the physical freedom women were allowed through clothing as they took on traditionally masculine jobs. Sadly many had to give these jobs up as the war ended and settle back into domestic work. But for many things had changed irrevocably, leaded the way for the roaring 20s!


I've also been really into the BBC drama 'The Crimson Field' and this provides the perfect accompaniment to the series and makes me feel like a proper fashion geek as I now know all about the starchy white VAD uniforms! I'd really recommend having a flick through 'Great War Fashion' - it gives a whole new perspective to what I learnt in my school history lessons (if only schools taught fashion history!).

Monday, 28 April 2014

A little trip to the V&A


Last week I managed to while away some hours at my favourite museum, the V&A. It's the perfect place for killing time and soaking in a little culture. Although they had some paid exhibitions showing, I really enjoyed just wandering around the permanent galleries and finding a little inspiration. The fashion room is of course my favourite and shows the history of fashion in a semi circle, from the Marie Antoinette style frocks of the 18th century to Vivienne Westwood pieces from the 1980s. Here are some of the dresses on show. What are your favourite places to go for inspiration?