20 December 2007

The Golden Age of Couture at the V&A

Dior's 'New Look' 1947

I finally managed to go and see this exhibition today. The exhibition at the V&A focusses on what Dior called 'the Golden Age of fashion', between 1947 and 1957 in Paris and London.

I have always had an interest in fashion, most particularly what fashion can tell us about people's roles and status within society, as well as social norms. I think it can be a useful reflection of key historical themes. Dior's 'New Look' was obviously the most influential development in fashion in the post-war period. It epitomised the desire to once again live luxuriously, and not be concerned with utilitarian garments, and rationing of fabrics, which had continued throughout the war years.

However, as I went round the exhibition, I was struck by how restrictive the garments were. Of course, they were often very beautiful items of clothing, very finely made, with intricate detailing, and fine fabrics. But, for me, I felt that they symbolised a greater desire within society for women to return to their traditional roles as wives, mothers, and sex objects. The fact that they had proved during the war years that they were capable of far more than this was conveniently forgotten. Christian Dior's 'New Look', which highlights feminine curves, and must be worn with a corset, was not designed for women to be active. So, although I enjoyed the exhibition, and I am very glad that I went, I felt that what I saw before me, when I looked at the fashions of the nineteen-forties and fifties, was a successful attempt by the fashion houses to re-emphasise the differences between 'masculinity' and 'femininity', and to remind women that their value and worth lay in their appearance, fertility, and culinary skills, and not in their ability to plough a field or put together intricate pieces of machinery.

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