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whatgrandmawore is a celebration of all-things fashion and its most iconic moments, written by Ruby-May Helms. She has a BA (Hons) in Fashion and Dress History, and an MA in the History of Design and Material Culture. She is currently in the process of applying for a PHD in design history, exploring the relationship between clothing and death. 


This blog explores fashion and dress history through the analysis of surviving garments and other material culture from museum collections. It discusses fashion theory, topical and current issues, and reviews the latest exhibitions. 


TO CONTACT: rubymayhelms@hotmail.com. 


You can follow us on our social media channels by searching for us on Instagram and Twitter.

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November 12, 2019

Welcome to the first edition of the fashion history round-up! Each week I will be writing a summary of all the things that have inspired me during the past seven days. These could be announcements about new exhibitions or museum openings, inspiring articles I have read and book releases I am anticipating, and social media posts that I find engaging and interesting. I hope you will all appreciate these posts and will find them useful! These weekly blog posts will accompany Instagram stories, so make sure you are following me at @whatgrandmawore. 

#1 - Book release from fashion historian Kimberly Christman-Campbell. 

Campbell's Worn on This Day (you may already follow her Twitter and Instagram accounts @wornonthisday), will be released in the UK at the end of November. This book explores the various narratives surrounding items of clothing worn on particular calendar days or occasions  from January to December. 

Using a variety of material culture, Campbell's stories will vary fro...

September 28, 2019

This post is the second in a collaboration with whatgrandmawore and artist Roxy Van Bemmel, a project which sees Roxy visually interpret historical garments from online museum collections, whilst adding her own abstract and modern approach to object observation. 

Roxy van Bemmel painting of an 1818 evening dress from the Victoria and Albert Museum collection, London. (2019) All rights reserved to the artist. 

The second garment I suggested to Roxy for illustration, was an evening dress from the Victoria and Albert collection. I was quite mean with my choice; if you take a look at Roxy’s fantastic Instagram page @whatsaroxy, her illustrations are bursting with colour. With the range of colour Roxy uses, her illustrations become dynamic and practically move on paper. However with this 1818 evening dress, I wanted to see how Roxy could interpret a historical garment in one shade, with no print or pattern. 

1817 marked the death of Princess Charlotte, heir to the British throne, a year before...

July 28, 2019

Our guest researcher and blogger Rachel Sayers returns to whatgrandmawore for a second post on Irish history!

'On Sundays at the Carnacun chapel the family [….] would pass by the men in knee breeches, frieze coats, and stovepipe hats; inside the church, the men sat on one side, the women hiding their faces behind shawls on the other.’  

- Taken from the re-collections of Irish novelists, George Moore, on his childhood growing up in rural Ireland in the 1850s. 

George Moore’s recollections of a rural childhood in County Mayo as part of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy that ruled Ireland at this time detail the clothes that his father’s tenants wore on a regular basis. From the description of the men’s clothing, it appears that they had not yet ‘adopted’ trousers, (Fig. 1) and were still wearing the knee-breeches of their ancestors a century previously. Moore’s account of Ireland in the 1850s and 1860s must be looked at retrospectively as someone who was nuanced towards the adage of ‘lookin...

July 20, 2019

This post is one of many in a collaboration with whatgrandmawore and artist Roxy Van Bemmel. It focuses on the interpretation of historical garments and textiles in an illustrated form, from a modern, abstract, and creative perspective. 

Roxy van Bemmel painting of an 1826 dress belonging to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (2019). All rights reserved to the artist. 

A message from the artist: My name is Roxy van Bemmel (@whatsaroxy), and I’m a fashion illustrator from Utrecht, The Netherlands. I’ve been wanting to give more depth to my paintings which is why I reached out to @whatgrandmawore. My background in fashion design taught me the basics of fashion history (and made me fall in love with it), but collaborating with someone who knows way more than I do makes this process a lot more fun! For this image I referenced poses in portraiture dating from the era, but gave the 1826 garment a modern touch by using tons of colour in my illustration. 

Roxy van Bemmel mood bo...

June 4, 2019

In light of The Costume Society’s upcoming July conference, Pre-Raphaelites and the Arts and Crafts Movement, the terms (in this instance) of the month are Aesthetic/Artistic dress. 

E.582-1953. F. Champenois. Mucha, Alphonse. Colour lithograph. c1898. Victoria and Albert Museum, London. http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O590845/f-champenois-poster-mucha-alphonse/

These two words are used interchangeably, and can be applied, as stated by Aileen Ribeiro in her text Clothing Art: The Visual Culture of Fashion, 1600-1914 ‘to a shifting group of people,’ living in the 19th century, who shared ideas in regards to art and its relationship to dress and taste.[1] The terms are described by Valerie Cumming, C.W Cunnington and P.E Cunnington in The Dictionary of Fashion History as: 

Artistic Movement: 1848-1900 – the influence of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, a group of painters founded in 1948 by Holman Hunt, Milais and Dante Gabriel Rosetti […]. This alternative style, one of the firs...

March 11, 2019

whatgrandmawore is pleased to welcome our first guest post from Rachel Sayers!

Within the study of fashion history, Irish dress is one of the most neglected and under-researched aspects. There have been less than ten major texts on Irish fashion to be published in the last 40 years, making writing, disseminating and researching Irish dress history difficult. Researching this blog post on Irish fashion between 1750 and 1850 has been problematic as information is limited, or extracted from other sources that are not readily available to an independent researcher like myself.  This however, has not deterred me in my research, and I hope that you find this blog post informative and enjoyable. 

Ireland in the 18th century was a predominantly rural society with a large percentage of the population working in rural areas. Clothing was made by tailors and seamstresses or within ‘cottage industries’ i.e. clothing made in small cottages across Ireland. [1] Working class women would have...

February 12, 2019

One could be forgiven for thinking that they were trespassing into The Dior Collection exhibition, held at Proud Central, London, from the 7th Feb – 7th April 2019. Quietly situated a close walk from Charing Cross station down a side street, The Dior Collection is held in an intimate, cosy, peaceful gallery space away from the bustle of the city, and other fashion devotees currently on fashion pilgrimage to the capital for the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition. In comparison to the V&A, Proud Central feels like a hidden gem undisturbed by overwhelming crowds.

Proud Central’s The Dior Collection, is an exhibition of fashion photography showcasing garments from the House of Dior, including garments designed by Christian Dior himself, to his protégée Yves Saint Laurent, to Marc Bohan. The photographs, taken by Norman Parkinson, Bert Stern, Horst P. Horst, Mark Shaw and Jerry Schatzberg, offer a view into the world of haute couture, from slick editor...

January 22, 2019

‘St Augustine says, “the dead are invisible, they are not absent.” You needn’t believe in ghosts to see that’s true […]. We sense the dead have a vital force still — they have something to tell us, something we need to understand.’ [1]

The above quote was taken from Dame Hilary Mantel’s lecture The Day is For The Living for the BBC Four Reith Lectures in 2017. It is also the same quote that I used for the first few sentences of my MA dissertation in the History of Design and Material Culture. I started my thesis with Mantel’s quote because her words resonated with the aims of my research. I believed that the individual that I was studying did have something to tell me, and I was on a journey to discover more about their life through the study of their surviving clothes. 

Not only at this stage did I feel that the dead had, to quote Mantel, a ‘vital force,’ but equally, that their clothes, also had the capacity to communicate something I was attempting to uncover. I wanted to employ...

November 6, 2018

Jeanne Lanvin was a prolific French couturier who enjoyed several decades of success during the twentieth century. First training as a milliner during the late 19th century and subsequently opening her own business in 1889, Lanvin eventually joined the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture in 1909.

She ran a highly successful fashion house for many years, her success only interrupted by invading Nazi’s who called for French couturiers to design under the occupation of the Third Reich, and relocate haute couture to Berlin during the Second World War. Lanvin refused, backing the President of the Chambre Syndicale, Lucien Lelong, supporting the livelihoods of innumerable ateliers and the heritage of France's fashion industry. Lanvin later died after the end of war in 1946, leaving behind France's oldest couture house still in operation today. 

Lanvin began making womenswear after clients expressed their admiration for the clothes Lanvin designed for children. In 18...

April 24, 2018

Fashioned From Nature could not have come at a more critical time.

Increased environmental awareness has finally seemed to resonate with the population. Hopefully, and crucially, it will and has made people aware of their own behaviours; how they personally impact the planet on which we live, and share. Reactions to programmes such as BBC’s Blue Planet demonstrate the outrage which is now felt towards pollutant and waste materials such as plastic. Human disasters such as the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in 2013 prompted a widespread reassessment of the fashion industry and called for changes to the production of fast-fashion. I doubt that there could ever be a more poignant time to hold an exhibition detailing the fashion industry’s relationship with nature and the environment. It has become vital to address and discuss humanity’s past and present manufacturing and consumption behaviours - before it is too late to reverse the catastrophic effects that the demand of fashion has on...

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