To start us off with the Lent programme of ‘Things’ here at CRASSH  John Styles and Amy Miller came to speak about all things FASHION. Together they provided the audience with two complimentary perspectives on materials and fashion in the long eighteenth century, exploring concepts of identity along with the production and consumption of fashion.  John Styles spoke on the technological production of cotton and pattern printing whilst the importance of officer uniform style and identity in the creation of public perceptions of the Royal Navy was considered by Amy Miller.

John Styles opened the session with a revisionist discussion of what cotton actually is and how this came to change and in turn define the industrial revolution in Britain. With a fascinating level of detail concerning the construction of different calicos and cottons, across various parts of the British Empire, John’s talk gave insight into the literal material culture of the eighteenth century! Other highlights of John talk included a new understanding of the significance of certain technological innovations within loom design and productivity in addition to the very slow democratisation of fashion with the evocation of high fashion stich work in the printed designs found on cheaper fabrics.

Amy Miller contrasted John’s talk nicely with a discussion of fashion being at the heart of the Royal Navy’s iconic place in British Society at the start of the nineteenth century. Navy uniform in this period was used by the Admiralty Board to remodel Naval Officers as idols of masculine identity during a time filled with accusations of decline in the Navy after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. With increases in the level of standardisation, naval uniforms attempted to reflect the moral condition of the officers. Ending with a fabulous portrait of Captain Ross clad in a bearskin from his adventures during voyages for polar exploration, Amy showed clearly the attempts to depict the masculinity of the Navy in the uniform of its officers, and therefore portraying their ability to keep safe British waters.

Following the talks there was a good discussion of how practicality is an essential consideration for both the production of fabrics and consumption of fashion in this period and Maxine Berg provided insight into the secrecy surrounding Indian spinning technology.

Please do check out the podcast: http://sms.cam.ac.uk/media/1211244;jsessionid=9B19C8AECA467AA114C90D81E6671998