Fashion History Talks! In conversation with fashion historian and author Kate Strasdin

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Fashion historian Kate Strasdin shares some of the most beautiful garments in history on her Instagram @katestrasdin.

I am beyond excited to announce Fashion History Talks!, a new interview-based series on The Art of Dress. From fashion historians, curators and authors to costume designers, vintage dealers and collectors, The Art of Dress will feature interviews with some of the most fascinating individuals studying and participating in the world of dress and fashion history. Full interviews will be featured here and in a condensed form on my Instagram @the_art_of_dress.

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As a fashion historian, lecturer and curator, Kate Strasdin is a wearer of many hats–and many fashionable ones at that! As an author, her book Inside the Royal Wardrobe: a Dress History of Queen Alexandra is to be published by Bloomsbury in June 2017. And as @katestrasdin, she has one of the fastest growing fashion history accounts on Instagram and it’s easy to see why.

screen-shot-2016-12-10-at-11-29-00-amStrasdin’s vast knowledge of–and undeniable passion for–fashion history are imparted to her thousands of Instagram followers daily with a carefully curated selection of some of the most rare and beautiful pieces of historic dress. Each post is accompanied with inviting commentary that not only contextualizes the piece in an historic sense but also invites her followers to imagine what it would have been like to wear these pieces, as she so often does: “As I go from work to dinner at a friend’s tonight, how clever would this kind of transformation dress be,” she quipped about an 1850s dress from the Met (featured above), “matching sleeves that can be unpinned to make an evening dress from a day dress.” Strasdin imbues each post with a personal charm and perspective that is unrivaled on Instagram, making her one of my all time favorite accounts and a must follow!

The inaugural Fashion History Talks! interview with Strasdin featured below is paired with some of my favorite @katestrasdin Instagram posts.

screen-shot-2016-12-10-at-11-28-46-amPlease provide a brief description of your job(s) and Instagram account:

KS: Senior Lecturer in History & Theory, Fashion and Textiles Institute, Falmouth University, UK. I am also an accredited lecturer for NADFAS (a UK based arts organization) and freelance writer. I only started my IG account this year after meaning to do it for ages. I live in a rural part of the UK and saw it as a way of connecting to people geographically remote from me. I had no idea how much I would enjoy it, or just how many people I would get to contact. It feels like a real community of interested folk. I love sharing my own passion for the field of historic textiles and dress, both in my professional life but just my own personal interests as well.

screen-shot-2016-12-10-at-11-30-46-amWhy is the study of fashion history important to you?

KS: I can remember collecting paper dolls as a very small child and just finding the clothes completely fascinating. I loved history from a very early age and especially the idea of lives lived before me. Clothing was so bound up with these lives, that ghostly remnant of a person, that for me it was the best way of interpreting social history. I worked as a volunteer in a dress collection aged 19 and when I saw the racks and racks of calico shrouded garments and the smell of the fabrics, I knew I had found my place. For me it also represents the hands that made the garments so in addition to being fascinated by the objects themselves, it is the story of the labor behind them that is equally important. I tend to study and share women’s dress only. For me it is the story of women’s history and the hidden lives so often lost to posterity.

screen-shot-2016-12-10-at-11-30-31-amIn your opinion, is fashion art?

KS: Yes I think it can be. I know definitions are always tricky and I would probably describe myself as a dress historian rather than a fashion historian as dress encompasses so much. If you define art loosely as something that is a creation requiring passion, skill, and a rationale, a thought process behind it then most certainly there are elements that I would describe as works of art. You only have to consider how long some garments take to make and the many different artisanal processes included to see how special it can be. It is easy to write fashion off as ephemeral and superficial so I think it is often written off too easily. It is a bit like the debate between art and craft, artist and maker.

screen-shot-2016-12-10-at-11-29-35-amFavorite fashion designer, past and present:

KS: Oh no, how can I choose?? OK I am going to be greedy and offer a few from different periods – in the past I love some of the women couturiers who were working in what was still very much a male dominated industry from the designer’s perspective, so Callots Soeurs are wonderful, Mme Paquin and the lesser known firm of Morin Blossier. Similarly in the 20th century I love Clare McCardell because she designed clothes that were beautiful and practical and wearable. For a designer in the present world of fashion I would have to say Phoebe Philo for that contemporary Clare McCardell aesthetic.

screen-shot-2016-12-11-at-1-05-41-pmIf you could recommend one fashion or dress history related book to Art of Dress followers, what would it be?

KS: Again there are just so many to choose from so I am going to give a couple of options. For a purely visual treat that offers a beautiful chronology of dress history then the Kyoto Costume Institute’s volume Fashion – A History from the 18th to 20th. For an introduction to fashion history as an academic study then Lou Taylor’s two volumes, Establishing Dress History and The Study of Dress History. Lou is my hero, I was lucky enough to have her as the External Examiner for my doctoral exam and I have stayed in touch. She is one of the lynch pins in our field of study.

Thank you Kate for taking the time to do this interview and for continuing to share your love for fashion history with us!