History and the City: Dress me, don’t suppress me.

This Saturday a trip to travel one million years back in time turned into a morning musing over fifties fashion.

I’m not quite sure what made me do it but I tried, in vain, to visit the Natural History Museum’s new exhibit ‘Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story’; which is stupid considering it was a sunny Saturday which only attracts a swamp of families and tourists. As the queue was over hour’s wait I nipped across the road to the V&A to the two rooms I always find myself in whenever I’m in South Ken; the Fashion Gallery and the gift shop.

I haven’t rated the V&A’s last few fashion exhibits, such as ‘Club to Catwalk’, as their permanent gallery showcasing fashion from 1750 to the present day has always been, in my view, far superior. As the display is organised chronologically it takes you on journey of fashion trends through time. I wish all exhibits were organised in such a way.

Of all the decades to don, I would always choose the 1950s…that was until I researched a little further into what a double-edged sword it was for women. On one hand it was a total contrast to wartime clothing, and revelled in the unashamed luxury of the late 19th Century. It was a major success among the war-weary population, as it evoked stability of a previous era and hopes of success for the future. Now you don’t need me to tell you that fifties fashion exaggerated the female form; which I am all for. Women with boobs and a chunky bum have no place in today’s fashion – which is a rant for another day – but my point is the figure of the majority, not minority, was celebrated, and that I find very liberating.

However, on the end of the scale, this exaggeratedly feminine figure was in keeping with the prevalent view that women should give up the paid employment they had undertaken as part of the war effort and return to the home. This is am not so in to.

I began to see the gallery as a representation of female suppression. And let’s be honest, men just didn’t have this problem.

I was about to round this article off with a rant about how far we’ve come today, but I think this sums it up perfectly… I am sitting in a coffee shop, looking like a lumberjack in black jeans and a red tartan shirt, sitting across from a man who is also wearing a red tartan shirt and black jeans. Imagine if the Don Drapers and Betty’s of the Fifties could see us now, level pegging.  Betty would probably be inspired to creep out of her wearisome housewife induced depression and become a buyer at Selfridges. On the other side of town, the utility room would be a revelation to Don, and the open plan offices of media city would mean far fewer office liaisons, making for a promising third marriage.

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