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Discover the changing style of Essex women

  • Date

    Wed 20 Nov 19

Christine Cleveland from Manningtree in 1962

Everything from a full 1950s petticoated skirt and the classic 1960s mini, to 1970s hippy chic and 1980s shoulder pads are expected to feature this Saturday in an exhibition of Essex women’s changing style.

Historians from the University of Essex will explore whether there’s any truth to the white stiletto stereotype and see how women from 1950 to the present-day have expressed themselves through fashion and make up at Faces: An Exhibition of Changing Essex Style at Firstsite on 23 November.

Organised by Dr Daisy Payling, of the Department of History, Faces will feature photos and audio recordings of people’s beauty experiences. It is part of a series of events exploring beauty and fashion in the county.

Dr Payling said: “We're interested in seeing and hearing how people's style has changed over the years because it can tell us more about how big societal changes affected people's everyday lives.

“When we see a photograph of teenage experimentation with hair dye, an 'I've got a promotion' new handbag, or a sundress on holiday and hear the stories behind them, we can better make sense of historical trends like rising teenage incomes, more women working outside the home and the increasing accessibility of international travel.”


Dr Elizabeth Hall, of Colchester, at a wedding in 1990
"Happiness lights up the face more than make up can but I still think it can help enhance if used well."
Dr Elizabeth Hall from Colchester Pictured at a wedding in 1990

The exhibition, which is part of a broader research project exploring women’s post-war health experiences, will also allow Dr Payling to explore whether Essex women’s style reflected the Essex stereotype.

The exhibition will reveal growing female confidence in the post-war years. Dr Payling explained: “From the 1930s, when Boots developed its No 7 range, make up became more affordable and gradually became something acceptable for respectable women to wear. However in the 1960s, women were still writing into women's magazines asking for subtle make up tips because their husbands did not like them wearing it.

“From the 1960s women and young people had more independent and disposable income to spend on make up and ready-to-wear fashions, which meant greater access to these products and power over what they wore and how they expressed themselves.

“The Women's Liberation Movement in the 1970s may have also influenced how women expressed themselves, either foregoing traditional feminine clothing or wearing lipstick in spite of their husbands' protestations.


Christine Cleveland from Manningtree in 1968
"My skirt is not all that short for the time. I agreed with a friend of mine not to go too far above the knees. But we did allow the lace on our long knickers to show as we sat down!"
Christine Cleveland from Manningtree Pictured in 1968 when she worked for the BBC in Ealing

Dr Elizabeth Hall of Colchester, who has donated two pictures from 1966 and 1990, said: “Happiness lights up the face more than make up can but I still think it can help enhance if used well.”

Christine Cleveland, from Manningtree, also donated several photos. Speaking about one taken in 1968, she said: “My skirt is not all that short for the time. I agreed with a friend of mine not to go too far above the knees. But we did allow the lace on our long knickers (black or red) to show on our thighs as we sat down!”

Although the focus is on women, the exhibition will also shed light on whether Colchester’s status as a garrison town had any effect on men's style.

The event, which is free to attend, also incorporates a creative workshop where people can explore beauty and fashion by making their own magazines with artist Lu Williams from Grrrl Zine Fair.