ritratto artista

Anon, the Italian artist, Lorenzo Vatalaro Antiques, Milan, IT

Haircuts are, of course, subject to changes in fashion just like all other aspects of our appearance. Hairstyles come and go, and sometimes come back, and back again. Fashionarchaeology has been reflecting on one particular haircut for a while now, the male “bob” (or rather: same length hair worn long to the neck and cut straight across). This style has a cyclical reoccurrence in the history of western men’s hairdressing and today’s post will investigate when and why men chose this style over the ages.

If anyone has ever worn a bob they will know it is not the easiest of hairstyles to cope with. It’s ‘high maintenance’ and requires constant care and upkeep. This is the first clue to understanding just why men in Europe in the middle ages began to adopt this style  in the early 13th Century


French, illuminated manuscript, 1250c, Bibliotheque National, Paris, Fr

In the rapidly evolving society of medieval Europe wealth and prestige was flaunted through appearance and the use of luxury objects. Quality clothing, textiles, jewellery all needed suitably groomed hair to go with it. Kings and their male courtiers began to wear their hair in a bob. In the above image the young man (his clothing tells us he ‘belongs’ to a court) wears his hair not only cut straight across below his ears, but obviously curled up or “set”  as old-fashioned hairdressers would still say today. Hot metal tongs were used for this purpose – also just like today. This “setting” of the hair is what distinguished aristocrats from commoners


Benedetto Antelami, the months (September), 1210-15c, the baptistery of Parma, Italy

In the rural scene above we see two men working in a vineyard. The smaller figure has the fashionable haircut but it has not been “set” in the style of a gentleman. The larger figure also wears a bob, but since he is doing physical work he needs to keep his hair out of his face and hence the linen cap. These caps will be worn all over Europe by those men who could not afford to  spend their day at the hands of a hairdresser but had to work for a living.

Fast-forward to the next great bob craze: the early 1500s

By the year 1500 the bob was back. Long to mid neck and with just one difference between north and south Europe: In Italy it was worn all the same length whereas in France, Germany, Austria etc. it was worn with a much more practical, short, squared-off fringe. Italians were at the height of their Renaissance and extremely conscious of their self-generated culture as well as their appearance. The explosion of the art of portraiture reveals a very self-engrossed Italian male who took the greatest care over his looks

Raffaello, Pietro Bembo,1504,MFA Budapest

Raffaello, Pietro Bembo, 1520, M.F.A. Budapest, Hungary

The intellectual (image above), the artist (see below) and all who shared contemporary fashion codes adopted this hairstyle

Raffaello, autoritratto con un amico,1518-19,Louvre

Raffaello, self-portrait with a friend, 1518-19, Louvre, Paris, FR

The next time the bob becomes seriously fashionable again is exactly 300 years later. By the 1820s  romantic young men chose the fringeless bob to represent their wildly sentimental characters. Significantly – in this time of historical revival – the new hairstyle was called “a la Raffaello”. A reference for the initiated in the marvels of Italy, the Grand Tour, the Old Masters and the sheer intoxicating romance of it all

Auguste de Chatillon,Theophile Gautier

Auguste de Chatillon, Theophile Gautier, 1820s

In Paris, London, Milan –  it was a shared fashion for Romantics across Europe. It lasted a couple of decades but some artists, such as the composer Liszt, stuck to it for the rest of their life so significant had it become to them.

H.Lehmann, franz Liszt, 1839, musée Carnevalet Parigi

H.Lehmann, Franz Liszt, 1839, Carnevalet Museum, Paris, Fr

In London the young Charles Dickens cut a fine figure (also wearing total black like Liszt) in a wavey bob

D.Maclise, Charles Dickens 1839 NPG lon

D. Maclise, Charles Dickens, 1839, N.P.G. London, Uk

By 1850 a new sobriety was setting in and the wild  bob gives way to increasingly layered and short hairstyles. Some artists however maintained at least something of that extravagance of the earlier generation, even if it was only with a wisp of a fringe or a wild curl not conforming to domestication

G.Fattori, autoritratto,1854,Pitti

Giovanni Fattori, self-portrait, Pitti Gallery, Florence, It

Today it takes a seriously stylish and confident  man to wear what is ( for the time being) seen as a totally eccentric hairstyle.

Francesco Merletti, untitled, tissue paper collage, 2013

Francesco Merletti, untitled, tissue paper collage, 2013

"Porträt der Heinrike Dannecker"

H.Dannecker, G. Schick, 1802, Staatliche museum, Berlin, Germany


leather and gold decoration, shoes, 1790s

How do we choose our shoes? what makes us long for a pair of very pointed flats rather than round toed ballerinas?…

Fashionarchaeology has been musing over this question very much lately. Pointy flats are, after all,  THE  party shoe this 2013-14 festive season…

Looking back in history, points have come and gone several times over the centuries. Waves of “fads” or “fashions” which lasted centuries or just decades. Today they last barely one season and are always offered alongside a distinct alternative. Freedom of choice? maybe. So how do we decide which shape of shoe to go for? It would be great to say we follow our instinct, but of course our choice is always culturally determined. We can hardly desire what we do not know or can not yet imagine.

kore,ultimo quarto VI sec aC,mrt NY

Etruscan, metal statuette, kore, last quarter 6th Century B.C., Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York USA

The Etruscans where master cobblers. Unlike Greek  (and later, Roman women) Etruscan women were always represented wearing ankle-high, smooth and strong-looking, pointy booties. We have however very little information regarding this particular “local” fashion  –  or how and who produced it.

The “orient” (anywhere east of Athens) seems to be the common denominator for pointed footwear of the past. Pointy flat shoes were fashionable for women  throughout the long Byzantine Empire

Imp Irene pala d'oro venezia Xsec

Enameled metal plaque, Empress Irene (detail from the Pala d’Oro), 10th Century, Basilica di San Marco, Venice, Italy

pantofole di pelle stampata con croce oro,VI-IXc,Walters mus Baltimore usa

Gold stamped, leather shoes, Byzantine, 6th – 9th Centuries , Walters museum, Baltimore, USA

The higher the status the greater the decoration, empresses such as Irene, wore red pointed slippers encrusted with gems and pearl embroidery.

In Christian iconography females are always depicted with footwear, never barefoot. Their feet were covered by pointed shoes and hidden by long floor-length garments  (just as their hair was safely tucked away under veils). Women’s feet thus become taboo…


Benedetto Antelami, Deposition from the cross (detail: women), 1178, Parma cathedral, Italy

The real “pointy shoe fashion moment” in history however, comes with the French Revolution. By 1795-6 French women were reinventing their fashion identity in the aftermath of the worst years of the Revolution  – when dress had become a matter of life and death

A.Appiani,Josephine Bonaparte 1796

Andrea Appiani, Rose Beauharnais (Mme Josephine Rose Bonaparte from 1797), 1796, p.c.

During the years of the Directoire women like Rose Beauharnais (Napoleon gave her the name Josephine as he found Rose too vulgar) were turning to the art of classical antiquity for fashion  inspiration. In the early years of neoclassical dressing, sandals were the most obvious choice – but also a semi closed shoe like the light blue one she is wearing in the portrait.

I have never seen examples of surviving sandals from this period, but I have seen many utterly wonderful examples of  very pointed “flats” (heels were  totally out of fashion)

leather and embroidered linen shoe, 1790s, V&A

Green leather shoe, cut out detail filled with silk embroidered linen, late 1790s, V & A, Lon, Uk

Debucourt, abito da giorno 1801

French fashion plate, 1801

3 leather shoes, 1800c, V&A

Three shoes, 1790s-1800, V & A, London, UK

Leather or silk or the very “modern” printed leather variety of pointed flats (see above) in bright pastel tones such as lilac, heather pink, sun yellow, grass green, were chosen to set off the bright white of the neoclassical dress to its best effect.

Fast-forward to today:


Black suede Jimmy Choos……


G.Rossi black lace version…..


And Tabitha Simmons’s black with glittering embellishment…..

ENJOY and dance your way into a fabulous 2014!

Chardin, sealing a letter,1733,Schloss Charlot. Berlin

Chardin, sealing the letter, 1733, Schloss Charlottenburg,  Berlin Germany

In this post I want to concentrate on the attention seeking aspect of stripe fashion. As we have seen there have been “stripe moments” in the history of dress for centuries, but what seems to be the common denominator is the desire (during these particular fashion moments) to attract  attention, through clothing, to one’s person. The optical power of stripes – they relentlessly engage the eye – comes to represent the “power” of the wearer in society. Although it must be said that stripes were not just for the rich and famous, they were adopted as attention seekers at all levels of western society in the past just as they are today. The ability to get people to talk about you, even if it is just about your clothing, should never be underestimated.

robe retroussée dans les poches,1780c,KCI

Robe retroussé dans les poches ,France, 1780c, Kyoto Costume Institute, Japan

By the 1700s we really see the art of Look at Me stripes being worked into the boldest female wardrobes

gior nuove mode fr e ingh 1787

Il giornale delle nuove mode francesi ed Inglesi, 1787, Italy, Coll. Bertarelli, Castello Sforzesco, Milan IT

Moda all'inglese, Mag.des modes nouvelles 1789

Magasine des modes nouvelles, 1789, Paris

The craze for stripes can be seen in the last issues of french fashion magazines before the revolution of 1789. Both women and men wore striped clothing and/or accessories.

Rose Adelaide Ducreux, autoritratto, 1790c,met NY

Rose Adelaide Ducreux, self-portrait, 1790, Mertopolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA

The fad returns bold and bright in the second half of the 1800s:

A.Renoir, Il palco, 1874, Court. gal lon

A. Renoir, At the theatre, 1874, Courtauld Institute of Art, London, UK

Great beauties, ladies or courtesans alike, wore stripes. But also old ladies who still felt like making a fashion statement despite their advanced age and faded beauty

foto Primoli,Contessa Primoli Bonaparte,CRAA

Countess Primoli Bonaparte, C.R.A.A., Milan, Italy

Bartolomeo Veneto,Luc Borgia come Beata Beatrice d'Este,Snite mus Indiana

 Bartolomeo Veneto, possibly Lucrezia Borgia (wife of Alfonso I d’Este), 1500c, Snite museum, Indiana, USA

There are many reasons for wearing stripes. As I mentioned in my last post, during the middle ages in european culture striped clothing was associated with the devil  (via the Arab / infidel-culture link).

So when do stripes really become a fashion trend?

The Renaissance is the answer. It’s enough to look through a gallery of portraits to realize that by the middle of the 16th Century stripes were really “in”. By this time stripes had lost their negative connotations (Humanist culture of the 15th Century had brought about some fundamental changes to the way man related to God and religious culture in general). Conspicuous consumption was the fashion and investing in attention-seeking clothes was a necessity for anyone who had money and/or status (the two didn’t always go together but one could lead to the other).

What better way to grab attention than through bold, striking, striped clothing? Both men and women adopt what in other eras have been termed as “loud” stripes – thick, straight and chromatically strong. In the first decades of the 1500s we find this growing trend throughout Europe. Interestingly, at first, stripes tended to be created by stitching strips of contrasting colour onto a base textile. Eventually we find woven striped fabric being used instead.

Dosso Dossi, Alfonso I d'Este Duke of Ferrara

Dosso Dossi, Alfonso I d’Este Duke of Ferrara, 1530c, ?

Germans were doing it as we can see in the portrait and the surviving garment bellow:

L.Cranach elder,man,1532,met NY

Lucas Cranach the elder, gentleman, 1532, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA

gown of Elector Moritz of Saxony 1521-1553,part of complete set,abegg-stiftung mus ch

Silk over gown (back view), part of set belonging to Elector Moritz of Saxony, 1530s, Abegg-Stiftung museum, Switzerland

The French:

j.clouet,Francois I 1525-30

Jean Clouet, King François I of France, 1525-30c, Louvre museum, Paris, France

The English:

Hans Holbein, Henry Brandon,1541,Royal col Windsor

Hans Holbein, Henry Brandon, 1541, Royal collection, Windsor Castle, UK

By the last quarter of the 16th Century, bold applied stripes had been replaced by equally attractive and equally expensive, striped silk

Opnamedatum 2004-23-09

F. Pourbous the elder, gentleman of the Order of Calatrava, 1581, Rijks museum Amsterdam, Holland

De materia medica, ill man, Jésireh, Iraq, 1229, bib topkapi sarayi Muzesi, istambul

Illuminated manuscript, Iraq, De materia medica, 1229, Topkapi Sarayi Muzesi Library, Istanbul, Turkey

The history of the striped fashion “trend” is a long and complex one. A cultural journey of cloth and ideologies from Middle East to West, from Muslim traditions to the realms of fashion bibles today. 

Much has been said and written about striped textiles. One of the most enjoyable books on the subject is The Devil’s Cloth   by Michel Pastoureau. First published in 1991 (republished since) and translated into several languages. The author explores various aspects of striped clothing from a sociological and semantic perspective.

Striped textiles became part of European fashion via the arabic conquest of Spain in the 8th Century.  In the Middle East (and throughout  muslim-conquered lands) striped clothing was fashionable for centuries and still is where traditional dress is still worn. Its origins going back to the dawn of the art of weaving. In the 13th Century image above we see a young arabic gentleman (medical student or young doctor) wearing a long-sleeved striped tunic. In the 10th Century image bellow we see a rider from arab-dominated Spain, also wearing striped textiles both for his clothing and accessories. This illuminated manuscript was actually painted by a woman but that’s another story…

mozarabic ill man,Beatus,cavaliere,975 spain,Gerona

Mozarabic art, Beatus, ill. manuscript, soldier on horseback, 975 AD, Gerona Cathedral, Spain

As always history gets exciting when we have some material artefact as testimonial evidence:

3 piece set grave colthes, child Infanta Maria daughter King Ferdinand III of Castilla y leon,d.1235,Panteon Real s.Isidoro,Leon

Grave of Infanta Maria of Castilla y Leon, sleeveless tunic, 1235, Pantheon Real, San Isidoro, Leon, Spain

The garment above is part of a three-piece set found on the remains of the Infanta Maria, daughter of Ferdinand III of Castilla y Leon. She died in 1235 and considering her status she would have been dressed in new clothes for her burial. This item of dress may seem like nothing, even macabre, until we contextualize it by saying that this kind of fabric/fashion simply was not around elsewhere in Europe at this point in time.

More evidence – this time in the form of decorated panels from another royal grave – from less than a century later

anon,tomba Don Sancho Saiz de Carillo,uomini,1300c,mus NAC Barcelona

anon,tomba Don Sancho Saiz de Carillo,donne,1300c,mus NAC Barcelona

Two panels, male and female lamenters, tomb of Sancho Saiz de Carillo, 1300c, N.A.C. museum, Barcelona, Spain

In the middle ages fashions traveled surprisingly fast across Europe. This one though came up against great resistance. Its  association with muslim culture/religion was dangerous, a threat to  Christian European tradition. So stripes became associated with the devil or the reppresentations of – but for that story you can go to Pastoureau’s book…

col works Christine de Pisan,1415c,BL

Illuminated manuscript, The collected works of Christine de Pisan, 1415c, British Library , UK

For my last post (for now) on men and hats I take you back to the early 1400s and the first image in post no.1 on Top Hats.

On The far left the gentleman in red dons a very wide-brimmed straw hat. Now, judging by the amount of fur and heavy clothing in the image, you may be wondering why this man is wearing a hat more typically associated with  summer. There is a quirky explanation for that: he flaunts a very particular french hat trend of the first decades of the 1400s. It consisted of wearing peasant hats which had been “upgraded” by adding a fur lining (no, we cannot see the lining but there is literary evidence available ). It’s incongruous of course, and that is just why it was so fashionable .

anon,Lavori dei mesi,luglio,1250c,San Marco VE

Wood engraving, the months of the year, 1250c, Basilica di San Marco, Venice, Italy

Peasants, male and female, had been wearing hats for ever. The most obvious material for protective headgear of this sort  was readily available plant fibres such as raffia, straw and reeds (or bamboo in Asia). As the 13th century wood engraving above shows, the wide-brimmed and shallow crown typology was very popular in medieval Europe.

Straw hats remained the favoured headwear for male peasants in Europe for the following centuries. With the Renaissance gentlemen gravitated towards more luxurious materials in their desire for conspicuous consumption.  It is only in the 1800s that we once again find straw hats on the heads of middle and upper class gentlemen.

paul Cezanne, Gustave Boyer in a straw hat, 1870-71, met ny

Paul Cezane, Gustave Boyer, 1870-71, Metropolitan museum of art, New York, USA

G.Fattori, Valerio Biondi, 1867, cp

Giovanni Fattori, Valerio Biondi at Castiglioncello (Tuscany), 1867, private collection

The two portraits above come from France and Italy and apart from a very similar date, they have something else in common. They both represent creative/intellectual men. It is precisely in the artistic milieu that straw hats once again “step up” from the fields to the well-kept gardens of European society. Artists in the 19th century dared a little with their appearance – in the true Romantic tradition  they could choose to break sartorial rules in the name of creativity.

Eliseo Sala, pittore Carlo Silvestri,1850,GAM MI

Carlo Silvestri, the painter Eliseo Sala, 1850, Galleria Arte Moderna, Milan, IT

More conservative gentlemen prefered the fashion version of these peasant hats to be found on sale  all over the mediterranean during the hot summer months and even in colonial countries where fibre hats represented the compromise between western elegance and extreme weather conditions of tropical lands.

top hat, raffia and silk, french Mellin, Poitiers, 1820c, met ny

Raffia and silk top hat, maker label: Mellin of Poitiers France, 1820c, Metropolitan museum of art, New York USA

straw hat, 1896-98, met ny gift of Louise Dahl Wolfe 1948

Straw cap, 1896-8c, Metropolitan museum of art, New York, USA

Finally this remarkable straw cap complete with decorative elements. This piece holds a story of its own which may be worth telling one day:  it was donated to the Met by the wonderful female photographer Louise Dahl-Wolfe in 1948

now where did she get it?…

fratelli Limbourg,t.r.h.d.Duc de Berry,gennaio,part,1412-16,MC Chantilly

Limburg brothers, Les Tres Riches Heures de Duc de Berry, (detail : Duke John de Berry in blue and fur hat),1412-16, Musée Condé, Chantilly, FR

Once again we return to the 1400s to talk about men and hats. As I mentioned in the previous post, this was a particularly creative moment for hat makers throughout Europe. In this post I want to explore a symbolic “statement piece” of the male wardrobe – the fur hat.

Jan van Eyck,uomo con garofano,1435c,MS Berlin

Jan van Eyck, Man with a carnation, 1435c, Staatliche Museum, Berlin, Germany

Petrus Christus, man with falcon,1445-50c,Stadel Museum, Frankfurt

 Petrus Christus, Man with falcon, silverpoint on paper, 1445-50c, Stadel Museum, Frankfurt, Germany

 The painting and the drawing above show realistic examples of a most fashionable type of hat for men in northern Europe during the 1400s. it was large, shaped and made of fur. Fur was not the novelty here – fur had been around for thousands of years of course – what was new was that artisans now had the technology and skills to produce such large, free-standing (i.e. structured to hold the shape) headwear.

So why use fur? Just like today fur was expensive and exclusive. It was a status symbol in western society. It is significant that this type of fur hat becomes fashionable in Burgundy/the Netherlands , since the northern ports of this region were international fur trading centres. Cargos of precious furs came through  (for example the most exclusive of furs, sable, would come from Russia) and be sold on to merchants from the major cities of North and South Europe.

Not only do we see these fur hats in male portraits during the 15th Century, but we also find saints and other males who populate the religious paintings of the Netherlandish school  wearing fur-lined “costumes”, including hats.

Dieric Bouts, Martydom of st Erasmus, detail

Dieric Bouts, Martydom of St Erasmus (detail), 1458c, St Peter’s church, Leuven, Belgium

Here the central figure wears a fur-lined cap, the brim of which has been turned over and pinned back, giving it a strange exotic feel. The two-tone fur is probably mink.

 The Big Fur Hat trend soon petered out  and eventually gave way, in the early 16th Century, to the Big Fur Cap trend.

In northern Europe especially, these are often made of rare and expensive fur such as sable (rather than local fox or rabbit).

Hans Maler,Sebastian Andorfer,1517,met NY

Hans Maler, Sebastian Andorfer, 1517, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA

This gentleman wears a large cap (originally known as a Milanese bonnet or bereta) with a wide, segmented and upturned brim. What is unusual is that instead of being made of felt or velvet, it is made of Russian sable.  Once again a true statement to the man’s wealth and social status. We must, however, concede to the need for warm headwear in the rigidly cold winter months  of countries like Germany, where this gentleman lived.

From the 17th Century onward fur in its natural state falls out of fashion in favour of the use of fur felt. Fur hats seem to be relegated to the sphere of extreme weather conditions and certain cold-weather sports. In the 20th Century for example, with the appearance of the first automobiles,  warm hats were required as cars had no overhead covering or windscreen.

male hat, wool and fur, 1900c, met ny

 Man’s wool cap trimmed in fur, possibly for motoring, American, 1900, Metropolitan museum , New York, USA

Today men still wear fur hats in extreme weather conditions; placing this accessory in the sportswear category rather than fashion. However men’s fashion designers have recently returned to the idea of fur for men. This winter’s collections were full of fur in all shapes, sizes and colours. Possibly the most bizare use of fur was at Moncler’s Gamme Rouge catwalk show – it will be interesting to see if we spot any item from this collection in the streets of New York, Paris, London or Milan by Christmas time….

Moncler Gamme rouge aW 13.14

Moncler Gamme Rouge, fur outfit, A/W 2013-14


gentlemen,Montreal,1895,McCord mus

Photo anon, Gentlemen, Montreal, 1895c, McCord museum, Canada

One of the earliest images I have found of a top hat (by that I mean a hat that has been built up in height and is made of wool, fur felt or other material that can be “shaped”) dates from the early 1400s:

col works Christine de Pisan,1415c,BL

Illuminated manuscript, The collected works of Christine de Pisan, 1415c, British Library , UK

In this image,  where we see French noblemen and kneeling before them the formidable Christine de Pisan, in the act of presenting her new  book , the gentleman in dark pink on the right is wearing a tall, black hat decorated with red and white feathers held by a gold brooch. Like the rest of the men, his head is covered despite being indoors, confirming the new fashion of the period. A gentleman always covered his head except in the privacy of his own home. This new trend gives great impetus to contemporary hat makers who competed with each other to create the most striking shapes. The size of these hats is also significant – they are large and attention seeking. The black hat he is wearing is important because it represents a new manufacturing skill of the period – the ability to shape felt (wool or the more costly fur)  by moulding the material over a wooden, pre-carved shape or “block”. This is still the way felt hats are made today.

In subsequent centuries,  the top hat disappears making room for an array of shapes and sizes in the history of men’s head-coverings.

We meet up again with the top hat in England  during the last decade of the 18th Century. But it is really in France during the Directory   that we see the top hat become the emblem of the new dandy fashions – wonderfully represented in the fashion plates produced by the Vernet family  between the end of the 1700s and the first decades of the 1800s

H.Vernet, Incroyable (parasole)1799-1815

Horace Vernet, “Un Incroyable” (or The parasol), France, 1799-1815c

At first contained in size, it will rise to extreme heights during the course of the 19th Century. Between 1800 and 1900 it is THE accessory for men, synonymous with status and power.

silk plush top hat,1892,McCord mus

Silk plush top hat, 1892, McCord Museum, Canada

Giuseppe Molteni

Giuseppe Molteni (Italian), 1835-9c, for sale: Lorenzo Vatalaro Antiques

Continental gentlemen took their elegance seriously, even when out game shooting. The Italian nobleman above wears a light coloured top hat with contrasting edging and green lining. The artist has expertly represented the “plush” (slight pile or furiness) of the material and the way it reflects the light. Exactly the desired characteristics of this mid-season or early summer hat. Very similar to the surviving item below.

Jas Wilson,top hat,1830-40c,manch.

Top hat, 1830-40c, Manchester museum UK

In full summer, in America top hats were even made of straw to combat the heat. Managing to combine the symbolic with the practical in a very elegant manner.

cappello, paglia, 1850c, mfa Bost

Top hat, straw, 1850c, M.F.A. Boston, USA

Francesco Merletti, First Lady, 2008, tecnica mista, 22 x 23,5 x 28,3 cm, collezione privata

Francesco Merletti, First lady, 2008, mix media, p.c.

For my last post on feathers I have decided to put together a selection of extraordinary feathered items I have come across. One thing is certain it takes character to wear feathers, just as it does to carry off real fur (yes! fur posts coming soon).

scarf and muff of sea-gull feathers, 1880-99,MET NY

Sea gull muff and scarf, 1880-99c, Metropolitan museum of Art, New York, USA

And it takes a real woman to carry off a whole bird – eyes, beak and all. This skillfully made “set” of sea gulls from the US seems totally audacious today, but probably less so back in the 1890s when there was a genuine vogue for stuffing and wearing just about any form of living species.

Emanuel Harry of London, gold earings with bird heads, 1865c, V&A

 Emanuel Harry, London, gold and bird head earings, 1865c, Victoria and Albert museum, London, UK

In 20th Century fashion, the trend re-emerges during the 1940s in the form of exquisite little hats:

LIFE cover 1942

cover of LIFE magazine, 1942

Hattie Carnegie, feather hat, 1940, MetNY

Hattie Carnegie, birds hat, 1940, Metropolitan museum of Art, New York, USA

Caroline Reboux, feather hat suede base, 1946, V&A

Caroline Reboux,Paris, bird hat, 1946,Victoria and Albert museum, London, UK

And finally lets not forget shoes! In this example (image below) Roger Vivier not only covers the exterior in feathers but also echoes the fluid shape of an exotic bird in the silhouette of the shoe – a masterpiece

Roger vivier for Dior, feather covered shoe,  1960c,Met NY

Roger Vivier for Dior, feather covered shoe, 1960, Metropolitan museum of Art, New York, USA


Peacocks and their feathers have been working their magic on fashion for centuries. Different cultures have attributed special meanings to this bird; often connected to immortality. Peacocks are able to eat poisonous plants and survive hence they, or their feathers, are often used to symbolize resurrection. The fact that they shed their impressive long feathers each year  only to grow back fresh, bright and beautiful ones, makes them the perfect symbol for renewal.

In western culture peacocks are also associated with men who consider themselves particularly well dressed or good-looking and who like to show off. “Pavoneggiarsi” (to display oneself in front of others in italian. Comes from the word “pavone” which means peacock). It is of course only the male peacock who has the spectacularly feathered tail and who displays it when he thinks it necessary…

Rex Silver, Peacock Feather textile for Liberty, 1900c

Rex Silver for Liberty, Peacock feather textile design, 1900c

Peacock fashion frenzy seems to begin at the time of the Pre-Raphaelite and the Arts and Crafts movement  in England in the second half of the nineteenth Century.

William Morris in his textile designs and his wife Jane Morris in her embroideries and tapestries often use the peacock motif. By 1900 it becomes THE textile design (see above) that best represents the Liberty culture of those years. And it is still synonymous of the company today.


Liberty case, 2013

Peacocks – as symbol and as motif – becomes hugely popular in the first decades of the 20th Century. They appear in and on fashionable clothing too

Weeks, evening dress peacockfeathers, 1910, Met NY

Maison Weeks, silk evening dress, 1910c, Metropolitan museum of art, New York, USA

Lalique, pendant, gold, enamel, pearl, diamonds,1901, Met NY

R. Lalique, pendant jewel with peacocks, 1901, Metropolitan museum of art, New York, USA

In more recent times peacocks are still going strong – there seems to be a fashion subcultural trend there somewhere

PeacockDress_McQueen 2008-9

Alexander McQueen, peacock dress, A/W 2008-09

and lastly one of the most expensive wedding gowns ever made – just to confirm the POWER OF THE PEACOCK lives on!

Vera Wang,peacock-feathers-wedding-dress-china-2009, cosst over a million dollars

Vera Wang, peacock wedding dress, 2009 at bridal Fair in China

att John Bettes,Queen E I,1580-86,NPG

Att. John Bettes, Queen Elisabeth I, 1580-6c, National Portrait Gallery, London, Uk

The fashion for feather fans spread across Europe by the last quarter of the 16th Century. Queen Elisabeth I, in England, had a great number and it is very likely that they came, via fairs and merchants, from Italy – Venice, Milan and Genoa had specialised in this kind of luxury item made up of part local craftsmanship and part imported exotic materials.

By the following century feathers were not only added to accessories but had also become part of  textile iconography

brocaded silk for clothing, peacock feather patern, 1600-1620c, V&A

peacock-feather patterned silk brocade, italian, 1600-20c, Victoria and Albert museum, London, UK

Feathers continue to appear in textile patterns up to present day.

The silk below is typical of the rococo period – small delicate flowers and soft feathers rather than the stiffer, more regimented baroque ones above

Rococo french silk, VEA

French dress silk, 1750c, Victoria and Albert museum, London, UK

In the 19th century feathers continue to be added to accessories such as bonnets and fans (still much in use, especially for the evening)

feather and stuffed bird fan with ivory handle, 1880s, V&A

Fan, feathers, stuffed birds and ivory handle, 1880c, Victoria and Albert museum, London, UK

but also gradually found their way – stitched, apliquéd, woven – onto and into fashionable clothing.

A hierarchy of plumage emerges: from the rare, exotic and therefore expensive feathers from South America or Far East, right down to the more mundane european varieties. The main difference was in the colours available. However with the introduction of chemical dyes in 1853 this problem was quickly resolved.

latvian feather short coat made of feathers, poss swan down, 1860c, met NY

Short outdoor lady’s coat, swan’s down, 1860s, Metropolitan museum, New York, USA

This extraordinary coat (because its made of worked feathers!!) is a perfect example of the levels reached by the new world of Haute Couture from the 1850s onwards. Designers and their Maisons would attempt to outdo each other by inventing the most intricate and exquisite details.

Emile Pingat Paris, mantle in wool, velvet, silk and osttrich feather trim, 1891c,LACMA USA

Emile Pingat, evening cape, 1891, L.A.C.M.A., Los Angeles, USA

Maison Emile Pingat is a wonderful example of the highest level Parisian fin de siecle haute Couture.  Several materials (silk, velvet, wool, metal thread, beads, feathers, lace and so on) were combined into unique pieces by the most creative and skilled craftsmen/women.



Emile Pingat Paris,evening mantle, wool silk metal and feathers, 1891c, Met NY

Emile Pingat, Paris, evening mantle, mixed materials including feathers, 1891c, Metropolitan museum, New York, USA

The presence of feathers in fashionable European dress does not become apparent until the 16th century. When feathers appear they are not on the dress but in the form of accessories, in particular ladies’ fans. These feathers are testimony to the growing interest for exotic objects coming from overseas as well as the ever-increasing desire for public display of personal wealth. Luxury fashion taken to extremes both by women and men.

gilt brass fan handle, 1550c, venice, V&A

Metal (gilt brass) fan handle, probably made in Venice circa 1550, Victoria and Albert  museum, London, UK

By the 1540s a new fashion trend had emerged as we can see from the portraits below, all from northern Italy (evidence of this trend elsewhere in the next post). Hand-held fans made out of a gold frame and large, soft exotic feathers. They were worn hanging from the waist on a gold chain and would be occasionally picked up and used. In the portraits of the period they were luxury statement pieces, attesting to the level of sophistication and wealth of the sitter. They were as important as the silk, embroidery and overall fashionableness of the dress worn. The feathers used tended to be ostrich, either black (see below) or white or dyed in other colours. At the same time as this trend is taking place we also have a strong presence of ostrich eggs being used by European craftsmen. Nothing wasted. Other feathers such as swan’s down were used – the important thing was the sensual tactile aspect of them.

Moretto da Brescia, lady in white,1540c,Wash nat gal USA

Moretto da Brescia, Lady in white, 1540c, Washington National  Gallery, USA

L.Lotto, Laura da Pola 1543-44

Lorenzo Lotto, Laura da Pola, 1543-4c, Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan, IT

A few years on and Italian artisans had become even more refined –  producing two or three tone exotic feather fans for their demanding clientele

G.B.Moroni, Isotta Brembati 1552-53 (palazzo Moroni Bg)

Gian Battista Moroni, Isotta Brembati, 1552c, Palazzo Moroni, Bergamo, IT

Bernardino Campi,cremonese,dama,fine 1560s,met NY

Bernardino Campi, Lady, 1560c, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA

For centuries, probably millennia (but I don’t have the material evidence for you) mankind has been fascinated by bird plumage and has used it as body adornment.  Feathers become imbued with specific meanings, for many ethnic groups they become a fundamental part of the costumes/objects they use to communicate with spirits and gods. They become part of the rituals of life and death.

The use of bird feathers is very much connected to their availability/rarity, as well as their appearance. For example in Europe in the middle ages brightly coloured birds were virtually unknown. The stunning, colourful feathers of Amazonian and Pan-American birds only became known after the “discovery” of the Americas in 1492. These birds (in the Caribbean and Latin American countries) must have charmed the fresh-off-the-ship Europeans with their appearance and song. Soon they became covetable and tradable – dead or alive.  We begin to see feathers in European portraiture, in one form or another, by the early decades of the 1500s. Either they appear as decoration on the attire of savages (thus confirming the use of feathers and the use of specific costume by different ethnic groups in these distant lands. Today we would take this as evidence of developed and communicative local cultures – back then they were just savages dressed in bird feathers and little else).

Vasco Fernandes,Adoration of the Magi,1501-6,Grao Vasco mus, Viseu,Portugal

Vasco Fernandes, Adoration of the Magi, 1501-6c, Grao Vasco museum, Viseu, Portugal

In this Portuguese religious painting of the three kings paying homage to the baby Jesus, we see Balthazar, the traditionally “ethnic” king, represented as an Amazonian chief from deepest Brazil. His facial features and skin tone are a clear indication of his ethnic origin as is the feather crown he wears on his head. He has however been “covered up” for modesty’s sake with a pair of silk breeches in the European tradition.

Occasionally we find portraits of European sitters in ethnic costume which includes feathers

Adrien Hanneman possibly Mary Princess of Orange, 1655c, Franz Hals museum Nethrlands

Adrien Hanneman, possibly Mary Princess of Orange, 1655c, Franz Hals museum, Netherlands

By the 17th century such portraits had become a fashion. In the portrait above Princess Mary is extremely fashionable in a white three-quarter sleeve shiny silk dress. The close-fitting pearl necklace and the pearl drop earings perfectly contemporary. But  she is also wearing an exotic turban vaguely reminiscent of those worn by  Persian pashas or  Indian maharajhas (incidentally both masculine). The turban is topped by large ostrich feathers which have been dyed red. Her body is draped in a cloak made of red/orange, white and black feathers. These are sewn onto a base fabric and the garment is lined in brocaded european silk. The feather-work looks original i.e. made in the Americas to local ethnic tradition. The jewelled  pin used to secure the cloak to the left shoulder is also European. The overall effect is startling and the intention was undoubtedly symbolic. By wearing such incongruous items of ethnic apparel the Princess is alluding to far off places and people. A statement of power made through items of dress associated with power in other cultures  (the chief’s cloak, the high-ranking or aristocrat’s headdress). By mid 1600s european countries such as England and Holland were asserting their power overseas in the name of trade (the East India companies already well established) and soon, imperialism.

high class lady feet unwrapped  High class chinese lady, early 20th C

Without pretending to be an expert on China, chinese culture or history,  in this post I want to muse over some stuff that has grabbed the attention of fashionarchaeology.com.


 yes an uncomfortable topic. Understanding why they did it is the least of the problems. How they did it is simply horrific – the bones being purposely broken and then the foot tightly  bound in strips of cloth to make it set into a new “desired” shape….not only the pain suffered but also the psychological violence of it takes my breath away. By ritualizing the event and by mystifying the results into the sphere of beauty and desire, girls were bashed and moulded into their adult identity.

In the picture above, the aristocratic woman looks like a china (!) doll with the layers of make-up that hide any expression from her face. The photo was obviously taken after the end of the bound-feet epoch. She sits and displays her naked feet, her toes have grown into the soles creating a little point at the front of the foot. Westerners especially were begining to investigate these obscure chinese traditions and making photographic reportages. Even older women agreed to show their feet, some accepting to become objects of study by the modern western medical world. Hence the x-ray below

769px-Bound_feet_(X-ray) 1890-1923 bound feet x-ray late 19th century China

Of course nobody (except the victim) ever looked at or touched the disfigured feet. Women would wear beautifully crafted little shoes in colourful embroidered silk to hide them. 

bound feet shoes, Queensland museum silk bound feet shoes, Queensland Museum, Australia

So if this was the accepted practice, when, why and how did it end?

A change in attitude was heralded by a woman, a surprizing fact in itself. No feminist revolution but one extremely powerful female who actively ruled China behind a silk screen for the second half of the 19th Century

Dowager-Empress Cixi late 19thC Empress Dowager Cixi, China, late 19th C.

To know more about her and the extent of her power look out for this book to be published October 2013:

Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China

Jung Chang, the author of hugely successful “Wild Swans” brings more chinese history out of academia for us all to enjoy.

I am certailny looking foward to reading it!

statue  with hat

Stripes, chinese women past and present, buying women’s underwear in islamic countries, my obsession with the Renaissance – just some of the topics I will be exploring  this autumn.  enjoy!

Here’s what’s wrong with hijab tourism and your cutesy “modesty experiments”.

I am sharing someone else’s blog today as I find this interesting, provocative, clever and very well written. I’m not Muslim, I’m not doing Ramadam, but it’s way too hot to write my thought today. but I will 🙂

Read this, it’s worth it for anyone interested in how and why we cover/uncover our bodies. Enjoy

This post is dedicated to His Royal Highness the Royal Baby (George Alexander Louis) who is really quite lucky to be born in present times rather than in past centuries – in terms of his public image.

Kate e William e baby 

Royal Baby will, of course, be followed 24/7 by the press for the rest of his life, but his parents have done a great deal to ensure that his public image will not have to be so elitist and unreachable as the previous generations (thus allowing him to feel more “normal” and part of society). In the photo bellow we see just how informal the royal couple can be (!)

Kate e William

and I am sure we will see some very “realistic” family snapshots in the press in the future.

Of course it hasn’t always been like this and not just for royal children. It took philosophers like Jean Jacques Rousseau, in the last decades of the 18th Century, to convince cultured western society that children were not adults and that their own dimension (“child sub-culture” ?),  should be respected. Above all, children should interact with their parents as this was the natural way of the world. If we look at family portraits from the 18th Century we have confirmation of this evolving attitude of western society towards children.

From dressing children like miniature adults as soon as they could walk and keeping them at arms’ length in the pictures

J.Kneller,Harvey family,1721,Tate

J.Kneller,Harvey family,1721,Tate Britain, UK

to a more intimate and relaxed atmosphere of the upper class portraits of the late ’80s and 90s of the 1700s

anon,woman e child,1795-8c,met NY

anon,woman e child,1795-8c, Metropolitan  Museum, NY

In this portrait the mother shows all the “natural” instincts encouraged by J.J. Rousseau. She probably breast-fed the child too. The quality of the painting reveals a wealthy patron as does the fashion the lady is wearing : crisp white cotton or linen muslin, in the simplest of styles suitable for the “actively involved” mother. The simplicity of her hairstyle and  the lack of make-up should also be read as part of this constructed or “styled” appearance. She wants to charm with her purity of spirit (and no expenses spared – imported textiles, fine silk shawl and ribbon)

more on the construction of the image of motherhood coming soon!

Vlisco campaign 6.2013 Vlisco, 2013

Picking up from my last post, here is a beautiful image from the latest ad campaign by Vlisco (see previous post). They have some cracking designers and stylists in their team – the fashion is always in tune with the latest western trends as well as pan-african ones. the fabrics are traditional but exciting in their colour schemes; their combinations for the outfits are just perfect. 10 out of 10 from FASHIONARCHAEOLOGY.

I also want to go back to the topic of african art/textiles by exploring the output of two more contemporary artists who are using textiles in their work to express “africaness” and more besides.

Cristina de Middel is a Spanish photographer-artist whose imagination was sparked off by a real story concerning Africa and its lack of space exploration programs (!), yes sounds barmy but if you visit her website and take a look at her AFRONAUTS projects you will be fascinated too.

Cristina de Middel, AfronautAfronaut from Zambia wearing a “wax” space suit and glass helmet.

De Middel has chosen to use ” traditional” printed textiles as an immediate visual reference to the local culture, thus creating a bizarre (even quaint) image, and so underlines the patronizing attitude the whole space travel from Africa story inspired. Once again, as with Yinka Shonibare, textiles are a vehicle for representing the more uncomfortable agendas.

Another artist using photography to address colonialism, it’s after effects and all things threatening to African culture is Samuel Fosso. In a series of self portraits he impersonates identities of negative figures in african society. He too makes significant use of “traditional” textiles

Samuel Fosso, le chef celui qui a vendu l'Afrique aux colons, selfportrait,1997, Magerorocca gallery milanLe chef celui qui a vendu l’afrique aux colons” self-portrait, 1997

Samuel Fosso, la femme americaine libérée, selfportrait,1997, Magerorocca gallery milanLa femme americaine“, self-portrait, 1997

 In this last image, fashion is clearly beeing criticised – its use to create an agressive “americanized” african woman far from traditional values.

 shrimp print cotton wax Vlisco, Holand 2009cwaxcotton, Vlisco, Holand 2011cshrimp print cotton wax Vlisco, Holand 2009c

FASHIONARCHAEOLOGY  has a thing about African textiles. A deep-rooted fascination (which leads to compulsive buying of textiles a/o clothing made of it). Why I love them so much? I would start by saying that I find them “exotic”…different from what surrounds me, different from the prevailing culture of textiles and dress I live in on a daily basis. The fact that my craving for African textiles emerges as the spring turns to summer has to be significant . Although I also like to wear the odd bit of African print in the middle of winter to purposely jar with the muted sombre tones of winter clothing.

So, back to exoticism and the magical unknown. Here are some Africa/fashion/textiles/art related images that I have been contemplating.

First thing: Yinka Shonibare MBE      British artist of Nigerian origins

Yinka Shonibare MBE artist self portrait (after warhol) 1

 He too is obsessed with african textiles. In fact I should be more precise he is, like myself, interested in what are called “wax” in jargon. But in his case this “obsession” makes far more sense. In this self-portrait he has super imposed a photo of himself and a piece of african fabric – yes quite odd but as he explains in his own words he is investigating a very peculiar african heritage.

“In 1990 I developed another way of questioning ideas about cultural authenticity. I started to use “African” fabric purchased from Brixton Market in my work. Batik, which is commonly known as “African” fabric, has its origins in Indonesia and is industrially produced in Holland and Manchester for export to Africa where it is made into traditional dress. The adoption of the fabric, particularly in West Africa, has led to the development of local industries which also manufacture fabrics. . . . In my own practice, I have used the fabrics as a metaphor for challenging various notions of authenticity both in art and identity.”

—Yinka Shonibare (London, 1996) from Met museum NY  2009 exhibition on Africa Textiles

“Wax” textiles are not african at all and if you visit the website of a textile company called Vlisco in Holland www.vlisco.com you can read up about the origins of this brilliantly fake product. By the early 1800s european traders (ok colonialist exploiters) had tapped into a key market in Africa – dress textiles. Industrialization had become a reality in northern Europe, cotton was being spun, woven and printed in a flash and it was cheap. The cunning plan was to observe local african traditions (beginning to be seriously challenged by colonialist culture) and re-elaborate them to produce a new tradition. These manufacturers, with the aid of clever agents across Africa, soon reinvented local textiles and dress habits. Nearly 200 years later and this type of textile is still going strong . Over time it has  developed its own subculture. Different patterns with specific meanings attributed to them in different areas. Some are obvious references to contemporary culture, for example the graduation print below which speaks about the quest for bettering the self, the need for education and the pride in achievement.

graduation/education design, printed wax cotton, Vlisco, Holland Vlisco wax

The two prints below are more conceptual. They are abstract shapes of primitive strength and strong vibrant shades suitable for the scorching sun of west Africa. At the same time they also, somehow work up the “native” heritage (or myth of the real africa ). the point is they did not exist before colonialism…

1080_0_1c3421ea-7ed5-4aa1-bc08-7146c980a570_125_165 wax cotton Vlisco Holland Vlisco wax

And to finish this first post (more to follow) on Africa and its invented textile/fashion/art cultures here are two amazing pieces from Yinka Shonibare

Yinka Shonibare, photo, fake death picture (the death of Chatterton - Henry Wallis) 2011

Fake death picture (the death of Chatterton – Henry Wallis) 2011

Yinka Shonibare, photo, the sleep of reason produces monsters (america) 2008

The sleep of reason produces monsters (America) 2008