I’ve written about the 1957 BBC programme Men, Women and Clothes over at Watchification, but watching another episode, Sense and Nonsense in Fashion, I find the whole series is full of good stuff.
The sternly elegant fashion historian Doris Langley Moore is talking about irrationality in dress, but it’s interesting to see that the examples she shows of shoes that look absurd to the Fifties eye – a long Twenties satin shoe, Forties platform sandal, a 1910 patent lace-up ankle boot – all look completely normal to the modern eye. I’m pretty sure you could buy each of those styles in Topshop today. “The beauty of these creations is mysterious and fleeting,” expains Langley Moore – does the retro impulse mean that fashion has lost its impermanence? I can’t think of a style from any past era that would look impossible today. Even the muslin-clad Regency girls in their cashmere shawls look like West London yummy mummies. You could probably get away with a bustle in the right circles.
What has changed is men’s fashion. The programme reminds us that through history men also made themselves uncomfortable with ruffles, high collars or wigs, before they all started dressing like children: “It’s probable that men have always been much more conscious than women of good form in their clothes.”
For the record, Doris Langley Moore concludes that the only time women have dressed in a sane manner was 1919 – and the flappers getting carried away with sequins soon put paid to that.
Langley Moore was obviously a formidable character – she wrote a ballet, founded the Museum of Costume in Bath, was an expert on the life of Byron and wrote some intriguing-looking books.