Lecture | Nancy Hills on Historical Dress

Posted in lectures (to attend) by Editor on June 21, 2014

This recap (along with a link to the video of the lecture, included below) comes from the newsletter of the Society of Antiquaries of London, Salon Issue 321 (2 June 2014). The video usefully provides a sense of the kind of scholarship the Janet Arnold Award aims to support. -CH

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Nancy Hills | Historical Dress: a Project Inspired by Janet Arnold
Society of Antiquaries of London, 27 May 2014

Advance publicity for the meeting simply said that Nancy Hills, a Janet Arnold Award recipient, would talk about ‘Historical Dress: a project inspired by Janet Arnold’. It transpired that Nancy Hills is Professor of Costume Design at Utah State University and a leading designer of authentic period costume for theatres and opera houses all over the United States. Her Janet Arnold-inspired project involved studying historic clothing in the collections of Hereford Museum and the National Trust (at Berrington Hall, near Leominster, Herefordshire, and Snowshill Manor, in Gloucestershire). Nancy made drawings and measurements that she then used to make new patterns enabling the historic garments to be re-created using modern materials but as close as possible to the original fabrics.

The garments in these three collections span the period from the late 1780s—when cotton was the coming fabric, taking over in popularity from silk, and when full skirts with extravagant gathers were fashionable—to the stripped back Utility dresses of the 1940s, made to conform to the government’s Controlled Commodity 1941 (CC41) austerity regulations, which went so far as to dictate the maximum number of buttons that could be used on each garment.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the simplicity of this garment, the speaker admitted that the Utility dress. . . was marginally her favourite in the collection, and most members of the audience agreed—indeed, historians of this period now say that initial hostility towards cheap, price-controlled Utility clothing was whipped up by retailers fearful for their profits: the public, by contrast, came to like the hard-wearing, good-quality and surprisingly stylish CC41 products.

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