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2015- current

Costuming as an Authorial Practice: Reading and Re-Authoring an Assemblage of Every day, Aesthetic Womenswear from the Birmingham School of Art 1795-1885 

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Conference paper, at Culture, Costume and Dress 5th May 2021

In 2018, Ane Crabtree’s costume designs of, ‘white wings and red cloaks’ in Hulu’s TV adaptation of Margaret Attwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (2012) was propelled into the spotlight. Adopted by women protesting against the states ‘requisitioning of women’s bodies’ (Attwood 2018) the costume became symbolic of their struggle.

Serendipitously, I was undertaking object-based study, (Taylor 2002, Chatterjee and Hannan 2016) and material culture analysis (Prown, 1980, 1982, 1993, 2000; Mida and Kim, 2015) of a regency red cloak, (acc. no 2012.2067) not dissimilar to Crabtree’s featured cloak. I am arguing that the red cloak has long prevailed as an object with ‘thing- power’ (Bennett 2009, p. 6) and ‘vital materiality.’ (ibid: p.17) whispered in historical traces (Birmingham 2008, p.1) in the archive.

Within the gathering of dress, bequeathed by Kate Elizabeth Bunce, (1856-1927) to the Birmingham School of Art in 1927, the red cloak emerged as an ‘evocative object.’ (Turkle 2011) Its preservation, amongst a gathering of predominantly neutral coloured dress, indicating an alternative rationale for its retention and subsequent donation. Evoking tales of, Little Red Riding Hood’s ‘heroine in red, the color of harlots, scandal, and blood,’ (Orenstein 2003, p. 37) and 'dressed exactly like fairies.’ (Zipes 1993, in notes pp.84-85)

Research undertaken at the Cadbury’s Research Library, University of Birmingham of the Bunce’s Library Catalogue, (BU31) and John Thackeray Bunces’ published ‘Christmas Holiday Lectures’ Fairy Tales, Their Origin and Meaning (1877; 2005) revealed a family preoccupation with myths, legends, and fairy-tales, evidencing the family’s immersion in Pre-Raphaelite tropes.

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