Top positive review
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georgette blouses and velvet frocks
on 13 May 2005
A vivid, witty, original and above all highly enjoyable recreation of dress, manners and social codes between the wars. Keeping Up Appearances is a goldmine of new and suggestive information. Horwood uncovers the world of the discreet dress agencies, which promised nearly new gowns by post with"courtesy, privacy and exclusiveness" guaranteed; the secretaries whose georgette blouses revealed far too much "cami"; the female professor of history at the L.S.E. who flew to Paris to buy a dress every time she published an article; and the unfortunate policeman who was shunned on a boating trip for wearing the wrong togs.
The study is much broader than conventional fashion history, using clothes to cast a search light on middle-class culture. Keeping Up Appearances marshalls copious evidence on the link between dress, class and decorum. A spruce yet suitable appearance was all important. As Fashions for All, 1925 warned 'many a "marriage will not take place" notice has been traced back to a dusty black velvet frock.' Horwood stresses the importance of correctness and propriety over voguishness for the well-upholstered, mature middle classes. As Ethyl Campbell, a London buyer said in 1939 "A woman should have a fresh wholesome appearance, turned out in such a way that it subtly conveyed, without investigation, that her underclothing was spotless."
The illustrations, especially the family photographs, are a delight. A rattling good read.