Sunday, 8 April 2018

Frock Consciousness

This morning I read an excellent article by Rosemary Hill from the London Review of Books, about clothes and women and literature and film and a whole lot of other things which are bound up in how we choose to present ourselves:

The term 'Frock Consciousness' was coined, according to Hill's article, by Virginia Woolf. Lately, I have got one step closer to actually reading Woolf, in that I now actually own a couple of volumes of her work, in the gorgeous Vintage Classics series.

Hill talks about how the designs of Elsa Schiaparelli and her contemporaries revolutionised women's clothing: for the first time, women were able to dress - and undress - themselves with ease. No longer did they have to 'be done up' by servants or family members, or constantly rearrange frills and furbelows (Incidentally, there have been revelations in recent years suggesting that Schiaparelli was a spy for the Vichy regime... an empowered woman indeed). What's more, the boom of the interwar department store provided a space in which women were truly at liberty (pun not intended).

Reading the article made me think about which frocks in fiction have had the greatest impact on me.

The first one, and the one I always go back to, is Pauline Fossil's black velvet 'm'audition' dress from Ballet Shoes. When I first read the book it seemed exciting and grown-up, in comparison to the white taffeta frocks and the indoors smocks described in the rest of the book. On further reflection I think it symbolised seriousness and growth: the audition Pauline wears it for is the first proper part that she gets on her merit as an actor, and the first part in which she's treated as a person rather than an interchangeable stage school child. It reminds me of the my now tried-and-tested technique of adding a suit jacket as 'armour' for a difficult day (or even just a day on which I'm feeling a bit tired). 

A frock which my mum passed her love of on to me was the pink-and-white striped one worn by Milly-Molly-Mandy (far right in the picture above). In my childhood - and my mum's too, I think - it stood for a no-nonsense attitude, simplicity, and getting out and about and interested in everything. Those are values which have stood the test of time, and certainly ones I picked up along the way.

There are other images and aesthetics which have stuck in my brain - Violet Baudelaire tying back her hair with a ribbon to think, for instance - but those are the frocks I always come back to.

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