A is to B

Style in Costume book by James Laver

Next week I am doing some quite intensive museum things. Going to a conference about them. My brain might well burst with all the listening rather than doing. Anyhow, I thought I’d carpet the way with a museum-ish post. Another one, I suppose. As I always seem to mention something about them. What can I say? I’m not bored of them yet.

James Laver, who wrote this book Style in Costume, has graced these digital pages before. He was Keeper of Prints, Drawings and Paintings at the V&A for, like, ever (1938-59). You’d think, reading his output, that he was Keeper of Costume & Textiles. But no, he looked after the one and obsessed over the other. A bit (in a very much smaller way) like I do.

Style in Costume has a very clear premise – that fashion follows architecture in any period. The book starts off with a poem by Laver (of course it does!) and ends with his stated Philosophy of Clothes. And there isn’t much of great sense in between.

The plates, though, make a very good argument for fashion mirroring architecture and design. The fashion plate being printed next to the architectural plate for all to see the similarities. However, in all the accompanying texts Laver talks about how parallelism and the ‘spirit of the age’ are the reasons for what we are seeing. He retreats completely from making any real arguments for or against his own stated premise. All in all leaving us with a frilly and trite little book.

But as you know I like a frilly – even a trite – little book. Published in 1949, this is just the sort of small, tight, over-illustrated mid-century book I like.

My favorite plates are the ‘top hats and ‘chimneys’ pictured here. No date or provenance is given for the images. But I’d say the 3 chaps are very obviously taken from an engraved fashion plate. And how lovely they are in their ‘symbols of Industrialism’, stroking their impressive sideburns in, ahem, philosophical thought.

The chimneys are not so picturesque. But I do like to think of Mr Laver hunting around in his drawers at the V&A for a picture of 3 chimneys to prove his visual theory. And his whoop of delight when he found just the thing. He’d have been a blogger, for sure, if he were still alive when WordPress first unfurled its code.



Laver joining the V&A must have been the (wise) career change after his failed attempt at taking children’s literature by storm with his Tommy Apple books (I treated myself to Tommy Apple in Banana-land – dull text but worth it for the pineapple horse and an imprisoned fruit-knife illustrations!)


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