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Rebecca Unsworth

MA work

Title of Dissertation: Impossible Fashions? Making and Wearing Late Sixteenth-Century Clothing

Late sixteenth-century clothing is often considered to have been rather impossible, extravagant, eccentric and impractical, with the viewer left wondering why anyone ever chose to wear such styles. Contemporaries described them as illogical and monstrous, while it has only been the more avant-garde and less-wearable modern designers who have appropriated aspects of Elizabethan dress into their own catwalk creations.

This thesis argues that while the dress of this period may have sought an illusion of impossibility due to its participation in the broader artistic and artisanal culture of Mannerism, it was also a practical reality. It has examined this first more sculptural age of fashion, where clothing was explicitly seeking to create a particular shape, through themes more often connected to sculpture than dress: form, materials and making. In doing so it has aimed to rematerialise dress, focusing on it as a created physical entity rather than an undefined abstract seen as simply representative of the wearer’s identity.

The warrants of the Wardrobe of Robes of the English monarchs from 1557 to 1603 and an analysis of extant garments, particularly those in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg, have been used as key primary sources in examining the dress of this period. These revealed both the matrix of fabrics and non-textile materials used to create the specific form of clothing in the late sixteenth century, and the high level of skill and understanding which early modern tailors possessed.

Info

  • Rebecca Unsworth profile image
  • MA Degree

    School

    School of Humanities

    Programme

    MA History of Design, 2013

  • Title of Dissertation: Impossible Fashions? Making and Wearing Late Sixteenth-Century Clothing

    Late sixteenth-century clothing is often considered to have been rather impossible, extravagant, eccentric and impractical, with the viewer left wondering why anyone ever chose to wear such styles. Contemporaries described them as illogical and monstrous, while it has only been the more avant-garde and less-wearable modern designers who have appropriated aspects of Elizabethan dress into their own catwalk creations.

    This thesis argues that while the dress of this period may have sought an illusion of impossibility due to its participation in the broader artistic and artisanal culture of Mannerism, it was also a practical reality. It has examined this first more sculptural age of fashion, where clothing was explicitly seeking to create a particular shape, through themes more often connected to sculpture than dress: form, materials and making. In doing so it has aimed to rematerialise dress, focusing on it as a created physical entity rather than an undefined abstract seen as simply representative of the wearer’s identity.

    The warrants of the Wardrobe of Robes of the English monarchs from 1557 to 1603 and an analysis of extant garments, particularly those in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg, have been used as key primary sources in examining the dress of this period. These revealed both the matrix of fabrics and non-textile materials used to create the specific form of clothing in the late sixteenth century, and the high level of skill and understanding which early modern tailors possessed.

  • Degrees

  • BA (Hons), History, University of Warwick, 2011
  • Experience

  • Retrieval team, National Art Library, 2012–present; Editor-in-chief and column editor, Unmaking Things, 2012–present; Volunteer, Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, Coventry, 2009–10; Work experience, Fashion Museum, Bath, 2009
  • Awards

  • Winner, Basil Taylor Memorial Prize, Royal College of Art, 2012
  • Publications

  • 'Book Review', Textile History, 2013; 'The Berg Fashion Library: The Undergraduate Student Perspective', Fashion Theory, 2012