After months of scouring the internet during quarantine in 2020, I found myself stumbling upon engrossing parts of YouTube. In the desire to find something to amuse myself in the bleak days of staying at home, I went through a variety of fads and tutorials, but I eventually found a habit that stuck — fashion history.
Throughout history, fashion has played a pivotal role in society, from sumptuary laws in medieval Europe to bloomers in the feminist movement. Much like today, it had various meanings and signals. For example, in the late middle ages, prostitutes in Milan were forced to wear black cloaks. However, not all of these dress codes were for the sake of identifying occupations; in the men’s fashion of the Italian Renaissance, many garments were made to accentuate the manly figure and showcase masculinity. Historians analyze these textiles and outfits to have an idea of the economy and social norms of a time period. In this day and age, many of us have access to this information at the tip of our fingers.
The internet provides many resources to access the history of these garments; museums like Victoria and Albert place high quality photos of extant clothing on their website, and Pinterest carries historical patterns and tutorials. In addition to these resources, YouTube creators like Bernadette Banner and Karolina Żebrowska provide educational and humorous perspectives on the topic. These channels are gaining popularity; both Banner and Żebrowska have more than a million subscribers, and those subscriber counts continue to grow.
As one of those subscribers, I hopped on the bandwagon while hoping to learn more about history, and in turn, I learned how to sew garments using traditional methods. Following tutorials, I made it my goal last year to make a Victorian men’s shirt following Banner’s exact instructions. This one shirt was my gateway drug, and I have no intention of ending this addiction. Currently, I am working on a complete 18th century ensemble that consists of a linen shift, stays, multiple petticoats, pockets, a robes à l’anglaise, and a bonnet. In a mix of hand and machine sewing, I have begun the long and tumultuous process of making an historical garment, and I hope to conclude this endeavor by the end of May. So far, I have completed the practice version of the stays and have begun the construction of the linen shift.
For any questions about materials or resources you can use to begin your own fashion history journey, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.