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Dani Trew

MA work

Dressing for Heaven on Earth: British Socialism, Fashion and Gendered Dress Practices, 1880-1914

My dissertation explores the relationship between socialism, fashion and women’s dress in Britain between 1880-1914.  It argues that the relationship between ‘socialism’ and fashion has shaped western modernity in important, and under-explored ways. It is a widely-held precept of dress history that western fashion and capitalism emerged together, sharing the drive to create surplus value and the commercial flux of markets. Socialist currents, before becoming connected to state-power in the twentieth century, were born out of the womb of capitalism, and provided a criticising ‘alter ego of capitalism’. 

At the end of the nineteenth century, therefore, socialist discourses and movements constituted a force embedded in capitalist culture, which similarly strove for progress, but which often emphasised ethics and aesthetics, and conjured up images of alternative modes of being, in an attempt to re-humanise the de-humanising effects of industrial capitalism. If the relationship between fashion and capitalism provides insights into modernity, then analysing the relationship between fashion and socialism at the turn of the twentieth century reveals alternative visions modernity. Marginal and subcultural visions which have shaped contemporary western society in innumerable ways.

 The relationship between socialism, fashion and women’s dress in Britain between 1880-1914 has been explored by a range of disparate disciplines. This study draws them together for the first time, and analyses a broad selection of political pamphlets, quotidian sources, visual ephemera and biographical sources. Attending to this material reveals a set of culturally specific discourses and practices centred on fashion, gender and reforming dress.

 The thesis ultimately argues that dress reform and social reform were inextricably linked, and that ‘socialist dress reform’ also extended into the production and consumption of dress. Exploring the notion of reform in the production and consumption of dress, reveals under-explored connections between labour organisations and the Arts and Crafts aspects of the socialist movement. Similarly, it also uncovers the cultural value attached to both dress reform aesthetics alongside ethical labour credentials for socialist consumers.

 Alongside reform aspects of socialist dress, the thesis examines the clothing choices of individual socialist women and demonstrates how socialist subcultural clothing styles were a fundamental part of political positioning. Building up a chronological overview of changing socialist dress styles, the thesis highlights the transition from historically inspired, ‘artistic’, clothes, to more simplified and inconspicuous forms of clothing. Such changes in dress also broadly corresponded with the movement of socialism from an intellectual coterie culture in the 1880s, to the later centralisation and formation of the Labour Party, engaging in parliamentary politics before First World War. 


  • MA Degree


    School of Arts & Humanities


    MA History of Design, 2018

  • A 2018 Graduate of the History of Design MA at the Royal College of Art and the Victoria and Albert Museum, Dani is a Design Historian with a focus on dress, gender and politics. Her dissertation explored the relationship between British socialism and gendered and politicised dress practices between 1880-1914. It argued that dress reform and social reform were inextricably linked in socialist discourse, that politicised reform practices were also visible in the production and consumption of dress, and that 'socialist dress' was a vital component of political positioning, as well as increasing the physical affordances necessary for active political engagement. 

    Whilst on the History of Design MA, Dani was awarded the V&A Fashion History Award 2016, and also the Clive Wainwright Memorial Prize 2017 for outstanding academic achievements and studentship. 

    Dani is also a practicing artist and illustrator, with her work being shortlisted for the BP Portrait Award in 2015. She has worked on art for film and theatre productions, as a private tutor, and is a regular contributor to Selvedge Magazine. 

  • Degrees

  • BA (hons) English Language and Literature, University of Oxford, 2014; Foundation Diploma in Art and Design, Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London, 2012
  • Experience

  • Volunteer, Furniture Textiles and Fashion Department, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2018; Volunteer Research Assistant, 'Ocean Liners: Speed and Style' Exhibition, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2017-2018; Volunteer Research Assistant, 'Fashioned from Nature' Exhibition, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2017; Co-curator, 'Palladio Drawing of the Week', Research Department, Victoria and Albert Museum, 2017; Multimedia Intern, The Bill, Hilary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation, New York, 2014; Artist and Illustrator, London, 2014-2018
  • Exhibitions

  • BP Portrait Award, National Portrait Gallery, Scottish National Portrait Gallery and Ulster Museum, 2015-2016
  • Awards

  • The Clive Wainwright Memorial Prize, 2017; The V&A Fashion History Award, 2016; House Scholar, Regent's Park College, University of Oxford, 2012; The Sonia de Saxe Journalism Award, 2010
  • Publications

  • Review: T-shirt: Cult - Culture - Subversion, Selvedge Magazine, Issue 82; Faking it: The Protest and Politics of Wearing Fake Fur, Selvedge Magazine, Issue 79; Embellishment: Behind the Surface, Selvedge Magazine, Issue 73, 2016; Great White Hunter: Fashion's Obsession with the Exotic, Selvedge Magazine, Issue 71; Rattling the Cage: A History of the Crinoline, Selvedge Magazine, Issue 68, 2016; Shopping for Change: Women and Shopping in Eighteenth Century London, Selvedge Magazine, Issue 67, 2015; The Miracle Fabric: Machine Knitted Jersey and Victorian Women’s Apparel, Unmaking Things Blog, 2017