The most recent concern over man-made fabrics vs. animal or plant based fabrics, cheap fashion and slow fashion are not “new” concepts. Have you ever heard of the Rational Dress Exhibition at Kensington Town Hall in 1883, or the Health Exhibition in London during the Spring of 1884?
At the Rational Dress Exhibition, Liberty’s fabrics were described as,
“Playing an essentially prominent part in connection with Rational and Healthy dress.” The healthiness of the fabrics came from “their purity, their natural dyes, their unadulterated by any finish or dressing, their freedom from any of the usual processes resorted to in order to impart a meretricious appearance of value to worthless materials.”
For the organizers of the Health Exhibition of 1884, Edward William Godwin wrote a handbook where he pointed out, “Some modification to the Greek costume was perfectly applicable to the British climate if it was worn over a sub-stratum of pure wool, such supplied by Dr. Jaeger under the modern German system, explaining,
“The principle was to suspend all apparel from the shoulders and rely for beauty not on the stiff, ready-made ornaments of the modern milliner, bows where there should be no bows, flounces where there should be no flounces, but on the exquisite play of light and line that one gets from rich and rippling folds.”
Was this the beginning of the end of the corset?
English architect Edward William Godwin (May 26, 1833 Bristol – October 6, 1886 London), was best known for his Ruskinian Gothic style of architecture, evidenced in the Guild Hall Northampton.
Starting in the 1870’s through the 1880’s, Godwin was associated with Liberty’s. He designed wallpaper, printed textiles, tiles, “art furniture” or metal work set the tone in houses of those of an artistic and progressive attitude. Oscar Wilde said, “Godwin was one of the most artistic spirits of the century.” In 1884, Liberty appointed Godwin to supervise the Costume Department.
Dr. Gustav Jaeger, (June 23, 1832 – May 13, 1917), German naturalist and scientist,
believed wearing wool “close to the skin,” was healthy. Jaeger began creating wool suits, around the same time he cut ties with Germany around the start of World War I, and became a British brand. Long johns were the beginning leading to an established clientele looking for British made garments at a reasonable price. Jaeger’s branded his fashions with wool and exotic fibers such as cashmere, angora and alpaca. Jaeger’s yarns are also used by the hand knitter.
Here’s a photo of camel hair fabric, natural cashmere yarn undyed and brush tail possum from New Zealand.
We still have the same concerns of those living in the 1800’s, consider the research expressed by Elizabeth L. Cline, in her book Over-Dressed, page 84, “The production of man-made fibers has doubled over the last 15 years…” How many of your garments are 100% wool? Do you recognize the fiber content on your garment labels? Check out the New York Times T Magazine, dated August 19, 2018 and explore, The Shape of Things to Come, pages 168-177. A visual commentary on fashion with “voluminous proportions layered for maximal impact.”
(I used Wikipedia and Liberty’s A Biography of a Shop by Alison Adburgham for this blog post. Photographs have been cited above.)