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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.
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on 26 June 2005
A cracking book. Beautifully crafted, elegantly written and packed full of witty and unusual illustrations. Horwood offers an important social and cultural reading of the fashion codes of the age. Far from a frivolity, Horwood reveals that clothing was all for many a middle-class soul in interwar Britain. It is clear from the attention to detail that extensive research lies beneath this book, and that learning is deftly revealed within the text. With a light touch Horwood uncovers the priorities and anxieties that nestled in the wardrobes of the middle class. After reading Horwood's analysis one is utterly persuaded by Vogue's advice of 1931 to 'shun the cheap and shoddy as you would a contagious disease and ... sink your all in a few perfect clothes.'
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on 12 May 2005
A brilliant evocation of bygone fashions and attitudes. Some of the male heresies were - brown shoes in town, wearing the wrong school tie; but for fashionable women, life became more difficult when mass-produced clothes began to appear in the thirties and 'it was easier to look smart when everyone from duchess to mill girl wore exactly the same sort of clothes.' (Picture Post). This was a light-hearted read but with serious social implications. I couldn't put it down.
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on 8 April 2006
An excellent book for anyone interested in clothes and social history. This book tells of an age when clothes really did matter, what the various classes wore and even if they wore similar garments - a suit for a man, a 'costume' for a woman - how they shopped in different places for such things, from bespoke tailors to department stores and chain stores. Every level of society had its own way of dressing and what today might be considered insignificant items - gloves, hats, ties and braces - if worn incorrectly or by the wrong class - could convey 'lack of breeding'. This book is as readable as any novel, it is well illustrated and there are accounts from Mass Observation archives. a thoroughly engaging, entertaining and informative read. From office wear to beach wear, from sports wear to the ubiquitous dinner dance, it's all here, what we wore and how we wore it.
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on 30 July 2009
A real reminder that `Fashion` is temporary but `Class` is permanent.This review of fashion and class between the wars gives a broad view of the even broader gulf between the classes during the interwar period. It underlines the great class divide in British society which continued well into the 1960`s and some would argue exists to this day. An interesting and nostalgic account of a time when life was apparently so much simpler
despite the incredibly complex web of social rules, codes and etiquette which sorted the wheat from the chaff or should it be the riff from the raff?
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on 3 May 2005
This book is a good overview of the social significance of clothes between the wars, based on Mass Observation material, interviews and contemporary documents. Who would have thought deodorants were despised because "women don't sweat"? It's origin in academia is a bit too obvious - it's well-written but dry, and though it's well-illustrated Horwood doesn't seem to have looked at her own pictures. A group of women teachers illustrates the point that teachers wore sensible shoes and tied their hair back - one of the women has long hair tied back, the rest all have short hair. In Pont's cartoon "The Importance of Not Being an Alien" the unlucky foreigner is supposed to be wearing the wrong waistcoat. But we can't see his waistcoat. There's one major howler.
Howoord thinks "bandbox" (used by one of the people she quotes as an adjective) has something to do with the too-smart dress of men who play in dance bands. A bandbox is a cardboard or wood-chip hat box (originally a collar, ie band, box according to OED). "She always looks as if she had just stepped out of a bandbox" means she is immaculately dressed.
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on 19 March 2014
Very interesting social history using fashion as the springboard. If you think the1930's were grey and miserable, think again - nothing is that simple. I enjoyed this book.
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