I was very pleased to be invited up to Edinburgh to be part of a Research Seminar Series organised by Ed Hollis, Deputy Director of Research, Edinburgh College of Art.
Scotland was sunny. In March. Huh? This was unexpected for many, including me. But I was the only one getting about in impressively warm 1890s women’s cyclewear. I presented in costume again and the Alice Louisa Bygrave ‘convertible’ outfit is not insignificant – it features four hefty, mostly tweedy, layers (fitted jacket, skirt, bloomers, tights). I was pleased in this instance that I was only talking and not cycling.
Rachel and I have been making mockups of each garment in a wintery weight wool, for obvious reasons – notwithstanding that fact that our office has been damp for the last few months (we have now moved!). As I slowly overheated, I made a mental note to revise our material palette for the final garments to ensure we aren’t going to have women, including me, passing out during the various events we are hosting in June.
Back to the talk – which was titled: (Extra)Ordinary Cycle Wear: Historic patents, convertible clothing and the contested nature of gendered mobility in Victorian Britain. I constructed a narrative of the project that stitched (yep) together my sociological approach to design, an ethnography of things and messy making methods. The audience was diverse – students and staff from art, illustration, fashion, geography and more. And they were a top group – providing great responses to the stories and transforming garments. I wish I had recorded the question and discussion session afterwards because it was very rich and productive for my ongoing research. They asked all the right questions as well as some tricky ones that I am still working on, prompting me to say things that were of the moment. I heard words come out in new configurations – in this case, it was a good thing. They also provided some answers!
And it was funny.
One student asked about cultural shapings of women’s cyclewear and specifically about colonial contexts such as in India – hence talk about tiger riding lady dresses. I’ll write that again – tiger riding lady dresses. Another comment focused on how mobility technologies and experiences shaped women’s (and men’s) clothing more broadly. This gave me a timely opportunity to talk a little about the new project I am developing that explores just this – the intersection of patents, gendered bodies and mobilty technologies over a 150 year period (I’ll clearly be keeping an eye out for tigers, ladies and dresses). I also learnt a new term that fuses skirts and bloomers – Skirtaloons. Thanks Julian! When Rachel and I were making the Bygrave skirt, we talked about how it was both curtain and skirt, hence it became the ‘Skirtain’. So, at this rate we’ll soon have a set of fabulous names for these fabulous garments.
After the talk I had drinks and even more inspiring chats with Ed and Craig Martin before I headed across the meadows to a fantastic dinner with Nicholas Oddy, from Glasgow School of Art – who incidentally is the only academic I know who has a Facebook fan page – Appreciating Nicholas Oddy. Respect.
And the train journey was pretty nice too.