On a recent Saturday morning, I dream about clothes. On a single rack in a sparse space hang voluminous skirts in heavy, vintage fabrics of vermillion, baby pink, cherry red and monochrome; a jumpsuit in pastel stripes with rows of fringe; an off-the-shoulder dress of the softest silk in a rich, plum hue; and a collared shirt patterned with puzzle pieces. They are completely within my grasp… Then, just as suddenly as I’d drifted off that evening, the dream ends, leaving me with little more than fragmented images of beautiful garments in a white-walled room. A question lingers, too: What – if anything – might the presence of these clothes in my dreaming mind mean?
One of the first costume scholars, and a long-time conservator at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, James Laver is a key figure of early fashion academia, and one of the first to write critically on clothes (or ‘finery’ as it was then referred to), and how we engage with them socially and culturally.