Dress and diremption: Fashioning the boundaries of taste in the historical novel, 1918-1945

Sallie Mcnamara

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Published conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


    This paper looks at three authors of historical novels between 1918?1945, Georgette Heyer, Norah Lofts and Lady Eleanor Smith and the clothes/fashions worn by their central female characters. These include aristocrats, the bourgeoisie, working class and gypsies. As Glass and Mineo (1984) argue, costume is an important focus in the historical novel as it enables the reader to both visualise the hero, heroine, and setting, as well as enhancing a specific sense of period. Focussing on the different representations of costume/fashion and the body created by these authors, this paper shows how they use these to create or challenge boundaries of taste in this period. It argues that Heyer?s work shows women as bearers of value (Irigaray, 1977), the body is commodified, and sexuality is not separated from economics as women have to make advantageous marriages, and thus represent exchange value. This is achieved through the ?tasteful? makeover as the young female protagonist is transformed in order to take her place in the public sphere (and ?polite society?). Heyer?s work is in contrast to that of Lofts and Smith where clothing is used to suggest other identities, flamboyant, excessive and bohemian, along with a more permissive sexuality. Unlike the tastefully clothed protagonist shown in Heyer, Lofts and Smith draw attention to the abject female body, they disrupt dominant norms and challenge boundaries of the body and taste. Overall, I suggest that their discussions of costume/fashion can be linked to anxieties relating to changing female identities in the period, and the discourse used links to the class position of the writer.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publication6th Global Conference on Fashion: Exploring Critical Issues, 15-18 Sept 2014, Mansfield College, Oxford.
    Publication statusPublished - 2014


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