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Dr Cheryl Roberts


  • Cheryl Roberts
  • Area

    School of Arts & Humanities


    Visiting Lecturer, Personal Tutor and Dissertation Supervisor

  • Cheryl Roberts is a Visiting Tutor on the V&A/RCA History of Design programme at the Royal College of Art. Cheryl’s main interests are dress, textiles and objects of adornment, in particular the consumption of the materials of fashion and everyday objects of culture.

  • Biography

  • Cheryl joined the RCA as Research Tutor in CHS Fashion and Textiles and became Visiting Tutor on the V&A/RCA History of Design programme in 2018. She initially trained in Theatre Design at Wimbledon School of Art and was a costume design for over a decade for film, television, theatre and as a stylist for music promo videos. In 2008 she graduated from the History of Design undergraduate programme at the University of Brighton, where she also completed an AHRC funded MA and PhD. Cheryl’s former practice as a designer is fundamental to her research as a design historian as it provides her with an astute understanding of the materiality of commodities and how these function within and construct society.

    From 2009-2020, Cheryl was a Lecturer in History of Art and Design at the University of Brighton, where she developed teaching with a  ‘learning through making’ approach, using historical construction methods to develop an understanding of the material impact that objects reveal about everyday life in contemporary culture and the complexities of person-object relations.

    She was Senior Lecturer in Fashion History at Middlesex University, 2011- 2016) and has also taught on Fashion and Textiles BA and MA courses at London College of Fashion, Chelsea College of Art and the Royal School of Needlework. 

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  • Practice

  • Cheryl’s research is interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary that focuses on processes of creativity and pushing academic boundaries. Her wider research includes the history of mass manufacture and retailing of textiles and dress for the everyday fashion market, the science of colour forecasting including dying and print processes, and film and performance space as platforms for investigating fashion and class narratives.

    Her investigative approaches reflect on modes of multisensory persuasion embedded in consumer culture and how these effect the design, production, retailing and consumption of goods. 

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  • External collaborations

  • Women’s Film History Network Research Grant, University of Sunderland, 2011 

    Pasold Research Fund / CHORD Research Grant, 2010  

    The Costume Society, Student Scholarship Award, 2010 

    AHRC Research Preparation Award, 2008- 2009

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  • Publications, exhibitions and other outcomes

  • Publications

    Roberts, C. (2021) Consuming Mass Fashion in 1930s England: Design, Manufacture and Retailing for Young Working-class Women, Fashion & the Body Series, London: Palgrave Macmillan

    Roberts, C. (2021) ‘Synergy and Dissonance of the Senses: Negotiating Fashion through Second-hand Dealing, Seconds Trading, Jumble Sales and Street Markets in 1930s London’, in S. Dyer (ed.), Shopping and the Senses: A Sensory History of Retail and Consumption since 1700, London: Palgrave Macmillan

    Roberts, C. (contributor) (2020) in D. Nadoolman Landis (ed.), The Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Film Costume. New York:  Bloomsbury

    Roberts, C. (2018) ‘Vast is the Kingdom of Dust’, Tenderfoot. Collaboration with Goldsmiths University and QUAD Derby.

    Roberts, C. (2017) ‘A Price for Fashion: A Young Working Class Woman’s Wardrobe in 1930s London’, Apparence(s): Histoire et Culture du Paraître, 7. Web.

    Roberts, C. (2016) ‘Fashion on Television: Identity and Celebrity Culture by Helen Warner’, The Journal of Visual Studies 31:2 (March), 155-156. Print. Published online 26 March 2015. Web.  

    Papers presented at conference

    The Design History Society (2019) ‘The Cost of Fashion’ Negotiating Fashionability: Second-hand Dealing, Seconds Trading, Jumble Sales and Street Markets in 1930s London’ Newcastle: Northumbria University

    Brighton and Hove Museum and Art Gallery (2019) ‘Bite Size’ Brighton Dancehalls and Nightclubs in the Interwar Years, Brighton

    Centre for Design History (2019) Crossing Boundaries; Untangling Fashion, Business and Consumption History, Brighton: University of Brighton

    The Costume Colloquium V. (2016) ‘Restraint and Excess in Fashion and Dress’ “Disrespectful Foreign Innovations”: Trouser Tensions in the Inter-war Years, Florence, Italy

    Tailored Trades Network Conference (2014) ‘Clothes, Working Lives and Social Change 1880- 1939’ Cultural Influences on Women’s Wardrobes, London: Bishopsgate Institute

    Material and Consumer Culture Network of the European Social Science History (2014) ‘Materiality Matters: Material and Consumer Culture’ Consuming Mass Fashion, Austria: Vienna

    University of Brighton Dress History Collective and the Fashion Research Group of the Institute Histoire du Temps Present (2014) Developments in the Mass Teenage Market for Fashion in Britain, 1947-57, Paris: IHTP

    IF Interiors: Fashion (2013) Dispelling the Myth: The Influence of Cinema on the Fashion of Young, Working-class Women in the 1930s, London: Middlesex University Research Group

    ADRI (2013) ‘Show and Tell’ Mass Consuming Fashion: The Impact of the Purchasing Power of Young Working Class Women on Mass Manufacture in 1930s London, London: Middlesex University 

    The Southern Counties Costume Society (2013) ‘Day and Night, 1929- 1939’ A Price for Fashion? A Young Working Class Woman’s Wardrobe, Chertsey Museum: Chertsey

    The Fashion Research Group of the Institute Histoire du Temps Present (2013) The Diffusion of Paris Style into Mass Ready-made Manufacture in Britain 1920-40, Brighton: Brighton University

    The Social History Society (2013) A Young Working Class Woman’s Wardrobe in the 1930s, Leeds: Leeds University

    Sussex Centre for Cultural Studies (2012) ‘TRASH Conference’ Skeletons in her Cupboard, Brighton: Sussex University 

    In addition to conference contribution made to an exhibition at the Lighthouse Brighton of work linked to papers.

    Mass Observation Anniversaries Conference (2012) ‘Seventy Five Years of Mass Observation’ Film, Fashion and Community Dressing in 1930s London, Brighton: University of Sussex

    Institute d’Histoire du Temps Presents (2012) ‘Femme et Mode dans l’Entre- Deux Guerres- Regards Croises Franco-Anglais’ A Price for Fashion?, Paris: IHTP

    Developments in Dress History (2011) Skeletons in her Cupboard, Brighton: Brighton University

    The Association of Design Historians (2011) Mass Consuming Hollywood, London: The Art Workers Guild

    Women’s Film History Network (2011) Doing Women’s Film History, Sunderland: University of Sunderland

    Conference organisation

    ‘Material Lives: Methodologies for Researching the Histories of Everyday Dress’ (2019) Worthing: Centre for Design History/ Worthing Museum and Art Gallery

    ‘Trans-formations – Transgender through Visual and Material Culture’ (2017) London: Royal College of Art Across CHS Symposium 

    ‘History, Memory and Green Imaginaries’ (2012) Brighton: Centre for Research in Memory, Narrative and Histories (CRMNH)

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Current and recent research

Cheryl is currently working on two research projects. 

‘Transatlantic Dress Trading: Fashion Networks between London and New York in the 1930s’ builds on her PhD research to broaden its framework to encompass a wider global perspective. This investigation examines the potential transfers, hybridizations and cross- fertilisations of London’s East End fashion trade and the New York garment industry, in the 1930s, to compare techniques of production, size of workshops, relation between producer and retailer, and categories of prices. 

‘Starlets, Showgirls and Circusettes: Negotiating Femininity, Eroticism and Wholesomeness in the English Big Top, 1930-1965’ explores how young women were pushing working-class boundaries to define modernity, femininity and community roles on their terms, through the act of performance and the clothing worn. Bodily refinements, such as grooming, cosmetics, fitness instruction an dance practice were part of the intricate, extended process of improvement that removed aspirational young working-class women from the ordinary and visually integrated them into the extraordinary. Cheryl’s research follows the lives these women as they negotiate spectacle, dress, sensuality, audience, and modernity within the beautiful and the grotesque of the circus. These arenas of carnivalesque and liminality disrupted the safety of the mundane and the conventional perimeters of class, engaging young women into the wider realm of a travelling demographic and a shifting, transitory community with blurred margins.