Prerecorded and posted: (Insert month and day), (year)
Rachel Elspeth Gross
Dr. Kate Strasdin
Jonathan Joseph 00:00
Hello, everyone, welcome to our latest installment of I can do that part of Little Red Village here at Little Red Fashion. Today is a super exciting day. I cannot wait to speak with Dr. Kate Strasdin along with Rachel, of course. Because I mean, do you get better than Dr. Kate Strasdin has done when it comes to fashion studies and her amazing work? Right now she's doing some fantastic work on a dress diary. And I'm sure we're going to be talking about that. But let me just very quickly bring in Rachel and Dr. Kate Strasdin. I hope you're all having a wonderful week.
Dr. Kate Strasdin 01:03
Jonathan Joseph 01:04
hello, how are you Dr. Kate Strasdin? And thank you so much for joining us.
Dr. Kate Strasdin 01:08
Oh, my pleasure, I lost my voice slightly. So you'll just have to bear with me, I have a slightly mysterious kind of voice.
Jonathan Joseph 01:17
I'm so sorry to hear that. Rachel had just mentioned that. You were recovering from a cold, but I'm trying to get her in here too. But I'm so appreciative of you taking the time to speak with us in our audience today. Especially on the heels of a cold that's never fun. Well, you can't you can't keep a good woman down. We are. The show must go on the show must go on. I'm so glad you were able to join us. You know, I one thing that I've been thinking about leading up to this conversation has been the work you're doing on the dress diary, of course. Because I think there's a lot of room in there. I'm working on an exercise to have kids create their own, you know, fashion journal, essentially, where it's like a really easy way to get them involved in textile and questioning what their clothes are made of. And whether it's working with color or pattern design, recognition, all those things, I think are really valuable lessons. And I think, you know, I can't wait to dive into Sorry, my keyboard is sideways. And I'm trying to get Rachel to dive into a bit more about what, really you know that. There we go phenomenal.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 02:29
Jonathan Joseph 02:30
Hi. Hi, Rachel.
Dr. Kate Strasdin 02:31
Rachel Elspeth Gross 02:32
Thank you so much for finding the time and I'm especially I understand you're not feeling perfect. So thank you,
Dr. Kate Strasdin 02:37
Right I've been, I've been looking forward to talking to you. So thanks for having
Rachel Elspeth Gross 02:40
- We are so excited. I can't even tell you, I love your work so much. I'm gonna like fan girl here for a second. But, um, I mean, anyone who follows my stuff knows that fashion history is one of the most important things in the world to me personally, and I love your approach. I love how accessible you are. And I love how you really look at things. From a female point of view. really consider how women made the choices they made and how that affects the you know, the appearance, the look the style, the fad, I think a lot of that gets brushed over sometimes. So please know what you do is appreciated.
Dr. Kate Strasdin 03:16
No, I mean, I realized I've realized through the course of my career that it's it's kind of hidden women's voices that have attracted me to the kinds of fashion history or the parts of fashion history I find myself in. And I think that's that has been one of the most important things for me is being able to tell stories about women whose whose stories would otherwise be lost. So I I've always really enjoyed that. For sure.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 03:46
It's one of the big things that matters. Little Red Fashion is really making certain that we prove to the people who pay attention to what we're doing that fashion is for everyone, there is not a person in the world who can not be involved even if they don't care, and that there's so much that we can learn from what a culture chooses to adorn itself with, from what a person or a culture decides is valuable. I think your work with Alexandria is a perfect example. I mean, we've talked about the queen, would you talk a little bit about that. Could you tell us
Dr. Kate Strasdin 04:27
I was always kind of a bit nervous about Alexanderia in a way because I thought, you know, here's me talking about this researching this incredibly wealthy, privileged white woman whose world in many ways was, was a was a completely guilted one. But at the same time again, what it became was that it was about the women who kind of supported that as well. So it became a project that was about the dressmakers and the and the tailors and the laundresses. And the dresses that the people that that supported that network. So, you know, became more than just the woman herself, um years ago, so I think maybe back in the late 90s, I was working for a dress collection here in Devon in the UK where it is. And we were given a collection of dresses by a British consumer called John Redfern. And I didn't know anything about him at that time, I was kind of young, out of college and, and I started to do some research into his work and, and pictures of Queen Alexandra just kept cropping up, you know, he was, he was her favorite dressmaker and, and it just took me down this rabbit hole of thinking she looks amazing. And I wonder if any of her clothes actually still survive. So I started to contact museums all by letter at that point, you know, waiting for actual real mail to come back from the States and see if there were any addresses. And gradually it became the topic of my my doctoral research, which was to locate where all of her garments that survived were. And it turns out, they were everywhere. They're there in LA, they're in New York, they're in Norway that they're in just all over the world, and, and kind of virtually reassemble them, so that I could try and tell some stories about this woman who was very well, biographies, she, people had written many biographies of her. But weirdly, they've neglected that side of her life about dress, which in fact, was really, I think, the most important part for her of her public public image. And she used dress in a really smart way. So yeah, became this kind of, I'm sure it's gonna be like my Opus, which is still cropping up. So I still get people that contact me saying, Oh, we've just discovered this piece in our collection, and we think it has.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 07:00
wow, no, I love that for so many reasons. Um, I was looking into Rose Burton, a few years ago, and a friend of mine pointed out that there's a lot more clothing survived, you know that she was Marie Antoinette's milliner, we think of all of those hats with like the boats and the crazy hair and the big things. And at that point in time, to my understanding millinery and dress design, we're kind of blurry, maybe. But it's amazing to see how much of this stuff has survived. Yeah, how much of it is still here. And, you know, people can write fashion off, sometimes they can, you know, it's just excess. It's just decadence. But when you do what you're describing, and you take a whole person's wardrobe, and you look at it all next to each other in a row, there's so much information there. There's so much to like, read from or interpret. And I love Redfern that sportswear before sportswear.
Dr. Kate Strasdin 07:55
Sadly, not much of his stuff. I mean, he was this amazing tailor that Alexander met on the Isle of Wight during our honeymoon. So he, at that point didn't have much of a business. But he, he started to make tailored garments for her. And she really was the first, the first woman at that time to stop wearing these really pared back tailored garments, taking them out of just that kind of sporting space, and wearing them in everyday contexts. So
Rachel Elspeth Gross 08:24
To pre emulate which is one of my favorite words. Jonathan did you?
Jonathan Joseph 08:32
What I was gonna say is I think there's such a really nice through line with your work to from dealing with someone who is, you know, aristocratic down to, again with the dress diary, you know, a relatively everyday woman with connections to the textile industry that was able to have access to everything textile, and then to chronicle it for such a long period of time. And that really intimate journalistic way is really interesting. I would love to know a little bit more about in your process with where you are with you know, the book, what strikes you as the most universal lesson that you've gathered from that process of that intimate familiarity with every day with this woman.
Dr. Kate Strasdin 09:14
so the dress diary was this amazing book that came to me through a, so I'm a lacemaker and I think that's it the idea of making and also then having some kind of connection with people that those kinds of people who make and so as the lacemaker and at my one of my lace groups one day one of the elderly ladies that attended the group said that she had a pile of stuff that he was wanting to get rid of, and would come to her apartment and help her and we can have it for our guests.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 09:47
Dr. Kate Strasdin 09:50
So I went down and it was just amazing. She's got she's got like 40 years worth of dress patterns from the 40s through to the 80s with boxes and boxes, she'd got just trunks full of stuff. And then the very last thing that she got out of this trunk was wrapped up in brown paper, honestly, it was like that, you know, one of those moments where it just makes your head.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 10:12
Dr. Kate Strasdin 10:13
and it was this pink volume, this silk covered volume. And as soon as I turned the cover, I could just see that it was filled with these tiny swatches of cloth. And above each one was a little note. And she didn't know anything about it, she had been gifted in the 1960s, it was bought from a junk store in Camden, in London, and she didn't know anything about it. And so she gave it to me, and I just knew it was going to be like the, the object of a lifetime, if you like. And so I started over the last few years, then I've been researching. And luckily, there was just a single, a single entry where this lady who kept the book did actually identify herself, but because she writes all of the captions in the third person. Sunny Taylor wore this dress in 1843. And there was just one time where it said, Anne Sykes May 1840. And then it just said, the first dress I wore in simple. Thank goodness, she did, because then it unlocked the whole volume, it meant that I could start to track back and find out who Anne Sykes was. So that's what I've been doing for the last four years is just gradually peeling away the layers of who, who is in this book, and there's over 100 different women names in there. And I've managed to find the life stories of probably about 30 or 40 of them. And so it's this amazing story for and who traveled to Singapore with her husband, who was a textile merchant, she lived there for seven years in the 1840s. When it was quite that was quite tough. I think what strikes me as the most enduring feature of this is that it's about how fabric can memorialize your life. And so when you turn back to these things, a bit like a quilt, or, you know, you come back to these fabrics, and they remind you at the time in your life, whenever that might have been an occasion. And it's also about how fabric connects people. And that it's also about how it reminds you of other people. So not only your life, but but the people that share it with you. And so I think for me, those are those enduring features that just connect us all we all have those garments or or even if they are just scraps that that connect us with with people. And yeah, it's just been amazing project. So it's coming out as a book. So I've written these 20 chapters, and each chapter is a different theme, and a different person. So it's been really excited to find them.
Jonathan Joseph 10:15
Yeah Yeah, I'm excited to read it.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 13:19
I think that's so true. I mean, clothing, regardless of any opinions about any aspect of it, it's a through line. I mean, it's a way to connect all of these dots within our shared cultural histories, but also within our personal histories. I mean, I have clothing, my mother is a quilter. And when I was a child, she would this was me at so I'll date myself here, but she would make my dresses I have pinafores and big puffy sleeves, you know from various fabrics. And now I have a daughter and she's four and she's big enough that she can kind of wear some of these and she loves it because they're fancy dresses and her Mimi makes them. She thinks for her but, but it's exactly what you're describing. I mean, it's an emotional experience for me, my daughter is having an emotional experience my mother loves, loves to see this. And there's something magical about using your hands and making something and clothing can last I mean we've only had synthetic textiles since around the Second World War maybe somewhere between the first and the second so you know obviously anything with plastic in it is going to last longer. But if something is well made and well taken care of wool, silk, even cotton or linen can mean it can be multiple generations. We're talking hundreds of years with the ladies that you're talking about.
Dr. Kate Strasdin 14:37
Absolutely i mean, what's so beautiful about the diaries because they were captured in in the pages. You know, they look like butterflies that have been trapped. But they are so beautiful, the colors that are really vibrant and much more than you would imagine. They just don't they really are beautiful and you get the sense of I think sometimes as well we can imagine the 19th century is this kind into a very, we see it in black and white because the people that we see from the 19th century or photographed in black and white, that there is then a sense of these very sort of stony faced individuals having their photograph taken. And then you see these textiles and you realize just how colorful and how vibrant our world was it. It was anything but you know, those sepia toned photographs. They just beautiful.
Jonathan Joseph 15:27
Yeah, we had an audience question, if you had seen any other examples of dress diaries in any collections.
Dr. Kate Strasdin 15:36
Dennis, who is amazing curator at the Fashion and Textile Museum in London. Hi, Dennis. So actually, what's interesting is so there's a very famous dress diary. And the Victorian Albert Museum. Not really addressed diary, it was more of an economic creation, Barbara Johnson's album, which was created in the late 18th, early 19th century, where she did a similar thing, which was pin fabric swatches into into a, like a, an accounting ledger. But that was very much as a way of charting her financial situation. So she wrote how much she spent per yard on the cloth. She did talk about where she, where she wore the the garments and included pictures of what the garment looked like. But I haven't found a single other one in UK. But there are there are several in the US. So there are a couple in Brooklyn Museum. There's one by Ida Jackson, which I was lucky enough to see have a good few years ago now. And and there's another one that so that I've checked one dates from the 1850s through to about the 1920s. But that in various collections, I found about six or seven us. So I don't know if that just means it was more popular in the States or whether it's just that the ones in the UK haven't haven't survived? I didn't know.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 17:07
Yeah, that's so I mean, it's neat. It's one of these things that really matters, especially if you look at the economic economy of it, like you're saying, figuring out how much money a person could afford to spend or, you know, charting for their husband or their accountant or whatever. There's so much more than just the face value. And I'm sure I did a whole piece a few years ago about the Countess Castiglione was around the same era in she's an Italian woman in Paris, and she documented her social successes with photography, really at the beginning of like, photography being a thing. And you can really see exactly again, what you're describing her. When she was strapped for cash when she was feeling lush, when she was doing well, when someone was purchasing things for her. There's so much information that really, in that particular era of time, the combination of photography becoming a thing, and there's so much expressive value and a woman isn't allowed to speak or isn't allowed to have a voice the way that we might have right now. Yeah, um, there's so much more information that you can communicate maybe not vocally. But yeah, you know.
Dr. Kate Strasdin 18:17
and I actually found with the dress diary, I think I was reading. So when I was living in Singapore with her husband, Adam. Adam was a really prominent merchant in Singapore at that time, he sat on the kind of grand jury, he was part of the Chamber of Commerce, and he was a really important figure. And when you read all of these old histories of Singapore, he crops up. But you realize that what behind all of these powerful men that all of the stories have been written about, and all of the histories have been written about their wives they are there or you know that they were there as well, they were, they were reading about Tiger attacks and pirate attacks and dealing with all of those things, but they just don't feature in the history at all. And so here's this time that she was written where she's saying, Oh, you know, this is the dress I wore when we had a picnic to the you know, at the jungle, or this is this is part of the pirate flag that the the admiral captured and she's living that life, but her story just never gets told. And and she's just one of you know, countless women whose whose experiences at that point just were never documented because they weren't considered to be important enough.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 19:29
Or how lucky are we that their diaries and there are? Like, we're talking sort of scrapbooks. There's information there. The stories are there. It's just a question of piecing them together and finding the funding to make sure that when you yell about it, people pay attention which I personally like my favorite thing in the world. Did you have something happen early in your life that really made fashion important to you? How did you decide that this your career.
Dr. Kate Strasdin 19:54
I knew from a really young age so I think I was about seven or eight when I first in first I've got this to show you wish this was never seen these, but this was a collection. So there was a company called Brooke bond, which was a tea, tea. And they used to feature these little cards in that. So every time you bought the packet of tea, there would be a card inside, and they're all these little.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 20:19
Oh how neat is that?
Dr. Kate Strasdin 20:21
So they were like that it's like cigarette carts, you know. And you would collect, and then you would send off for the book that you can stick them into. So my grandmother, collected these and I and this was mine from I guess, the late 70s 70s 80s. And I knew I gave them all names. And I told stories about them, because I would arrange them. So for me, I think it was that dress always represented people's stories I wanted to know about their lives, and about these people who are wearing things that are really unfamiliar. But I really want to know that their life. So was that history. But it was this idea that close one of the curators I worked for first, a long, long time ago. Now, I can remember her telling me that, that she described clothes as the ghostly outline of our ancestors, and that they really are the closest that you can get to people that came before us to say you're seeing that second skin of somebody in their life. And, and that really stuck with me as the reason I just found dressed. so fascinating. People inhabited it and lift it. And so it's a really young age seven, eight. And then when I was about 14, I think I was kind of unusual. So rather than other 14 year old girls who might want to go rollerskating or something like, Oh, I want to go to the costume museum for my party,
Rachel Elspeth Gross 21:52
we understand that you have no idea.
Dr. Kate Strasdin 21:57
I'm not sure my friends thought about something that they've done. But that's what I wanted to do. And it just never left me. And so then it's that kind of tricky route, about what Okay, you have this fairly niche interest. How do you how do you turn that into something that that is a thing? So it's Yeah, turning that into a career? I think, it takes some perseverance. But if you love it you'll do it.
Jonathan Joseph 22:30
absolutely, I mean, and that's what we're here to do a little red is really pull back the curtain earlier and more engagingly than has been done before for young people that love fashion at a young age, and provide those resources. And, you know, when we first before you hopped on Rachel, I was saying, you know, this idea of a fashion journal or a fashion diary is a great activity for kids to start chronicling, like, these are the patterns I like, these are the colors I like, these are the shapes I like, here's a drawing that I did, it doesn't just have to be, you know, the fabric and for talking activities for kids to build off of your experiences, Dr. Strasdin. It's like I think, being able to create, again, that through line to bring it to that to connect today for a young person with the idea of the embodied garment is really powerful.
Dr. Kate Strasdin 23:17
I think it is. And I think also, it's about that value of if we're thinking about how, when it's very complex fashion system that, you know, is flawed, but also massively important to so many people, not just economically but you know, that their cultural backgrounds, the interest that they have, just just from a therapeutic point of view. But valuing textiles again, and seeing them as as an intrinsic part of our lives. And I think that that's what a journal can do. If you chart your path through your current clothes life, you can value what you actually what you actually work every day, or look at every day. So I think that was an amazing project. In fact, when so I spoke with a good friend of mine, Professor Alison Matthews David from Ryerson in Toronto. And we spoke about some shared research interests at a conference and then we decided we love the idea of starting like a dress historians dress diary project. So we bought an amazing marbled book and, and intended to fill it with our score of our dress historian friends to send us swatches and then the pandemic happened. And it hasn't quite happened yet. But yeah, I mean, I think projects about scraps of people's lives but what those scraps mean are is really interesting.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 24:40
Yeah, and when you sew I, my mother, I think I said was a quilter and I I don't even remember learning how to sew I know a tiny bit about tatting and I know a lot about embroidery. And I know a lot of people there's a quilting guild where I live my mother's part of so you know, tangentially I participate but when you make clothing, when you Save scraps you save bits, because you're always either trying to remember what you bought. So you can get another couple of yards. Or it was just a really great fabric and you want to remember who made it or where you got it or, like, it'd be embarrassing for anyone here to see my closet of storage of fabric. But those little bits are so important. And they're what what you're describing, it's what makes it possible to better understand these errors where certain voices were not listened to, or not worth maybe documenting, worth documenting. And I love that idea. There's, there's, I've seen, there's writings like that, that have happened where you know, someone will put in a passage and pass it on to a friend or colleague and continue it and that kind of group voice sounds so powerful. And I think that, you know, a lot of things have been very challenging in the past 18 months or so. But remembering the power that we have, remembering the strength of a community, hearing other people's perspectives, which is not easy to do, maybe when you're by yourself or isolated with your family. That's, that's a big deal. It's something I look forward to being able to indulge in.
Dr. Kate Strasdin 26:14
I think, you know, that that, although, although there has been that great upsurge of making hasn't there through pandemic, and people re engaging and rediscovering the possibilities of craft and making. But it's all had to be done at a distance. And so the idea of doing that collectively, again, is really appealing.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 26:35
It really, really is. We always like to ask about books, is there any particular fashion book or history book that you? I don't know, you think it's important or moved you?
Dr. Kate Strasdin 26:48
I mean, obviously, you can find so many pictures online now. But I still think you know, nothing beats that just turning the pages and going oh, my God, that's so good. So the fashion book that was published by the Kyoto Costume institute a good few years ago, you know what I mean?
Rachel Elspeth Gross 27:06
I have it. Its one of my favorites yeah.
Dr. Kate Strasdin 27:09
It's just like a fashion Bible. It's so it's huge. And it's just, it's got a softcover the one I have anyway. And just every that, yes thats the one. and every page has just got a really good size, glossy, beautiful image on it. And, and I think as a, just as the just from a pure a visual feast point of view. That's a real treat, you know, just something to turn to. I think the V&A books, their fashion and detail series are really fantastic because they they help to they show you those details that then they help to put it into context and look at how you know, construction. And I think that's really important. I really grew up with with a with a kind of the patterns of fashion and Nora wore and Nancy Bradfield, those, those women who I think in some ways have not that they've been discounted, but in a way I think the idea of, of really documenting all the all the tiny details. That was that slightly fell out of fashion in a way that it wasn't cool to me that to pay that much attention to the details. But actually they're so trailblazing and so that's where it all begins when you really look at something properly. So they're also really important, I think.
Rachel Elspeth Gross 28:48
I love it when there's an exhibit or an exhibition, this has happened in Chicago probably have New York, but when they scan garments, or they like walk through the MRI thing, and you can see it in Chicago with the Charles James collection like those. It's so interesting to see exactly what you're saying. But construction with the inside looks like and one thing I know gets kind of lost in the shuffle. If you look at, you know, early 20th century haute couture, the inside of a garment doesn't necessarily match the finish on the outside seeing what the guts look like what the inside is. So I don't know. It's very interesting, I think needs needs that they need to learn. I think seeing that is so valuable. When I was in design school, I was taught by a woman who had worked with Comme des Garçons and Junya Watanabe and we were not allowed to turn things in that were not equally as pretty young inside as they were on the outside. And so looking at, you know my own experiences versus the history and thinking about all the stories of all of the people, many of them women who were doing all of those tiny little hand stitches. I love it. I don't know
Dr. Kate Strasdin 30:00
I think I've always loved about object based studies, which is that they are, you know, the biographies of the objects aren't just about who made them. They're not just about who designed them rather it is those all of the hands that actually contributed to the making and then and then the, the retail and then the wearer's and the journey that it takes all the way along, but that might be so compelling.
Jonathan Joseph 30:28
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it cuts right to the heart of our first book,The Little Red Dress, it's the story of a dress as narrated through its own life and the many lives that leads, you know, I think, being able to again, peel it back is so important and why these sorts of conversations are so important. we're rounding up on four o'clock. So I would love to thank you so much again, for taking the time to share your work and some thoughts with us and our audience. And we will be excitedly waiting with bated breath for your next book as for all of them . And if you haven't, those of you who are watching gotten your digital copy of the little red dress, you can go ahead and order that on our website. www.littleredfashion.com and make sure that you were tuning in every Thursday at 330 for another installment of I can do that part of Little Red Village here at Little Red Fashion. Rachel, always good to see you. And I will see you next week. And thank you so much again, D. Strasdin. and
Dr. Kate Strasdin 31:24
Rachel Elspeth Gross 31:24
It's wonderful to meet you.
Jonathan Joseph 31:27
Rachel Elspeth Gross 31:29
Thank you again. Bye
Dr. Kate Strasdin 31:30