What I Do
I’m a fashion historian, which involves researching and writing and speaking about the historical context of clothing and dress. My work explores the historical, political, cultural and social meaning of clothing throughout history.
There are a number of strands to what I do. I am an Associate Lecturer at London College of Fashion, and have taught at other institutions including University for the Creative Arts. I write, mostly books, which have ranged from Nautical Chic – an exploration of the impact of the sea on our wardrobe – to The Fashion of Film, which looked at the impact of cinema on style. I regularly give public talks and lectures at institutions and museums throughout the UK, and I also broadcast my research, most recently the series A Stitch in Time on BBC Four.
Jobs in Research
I work across a number of industries; within each of these there are a number of jobs.
I work closely with the museum and heritage sector when I give talks and workshops, and other professions here include curators, conservators and gallery assistants.
In publishing, jobs range from picture researchers to editors, as well as authors and other writers.
Many associate lecturers pursue full time positions within academia, which range from senior lecturers to professors.
In media and broadcasting there are many vital behind-the-scenes jobs from producers (in both TV and radio) to directors, camera work, sound technicians and editors.
I’ve always been really passionate about old clothes, from charity shopping with my mum as a child to working as the buyer for an international vintage clothing company, which I did in my 20s. I’m not a maker, but I study the craft of others, and the wider stories this can tell us about history, society and culture. My career developed somewhat organically, mixing together elements that I have always enjoyed – reading, research, objects – to eventually form a coherent whole.
What I Studied
I always choose subjects I enjoyed, with no wider aim or goal in mind. I always found it difficult to choose between subjects as I enjoyed learning a lot – so cutting out subjects was always something I spent a great deal of time considering. But I had no career aim in mind, I didn’t know what I wanted to do as a career while I was at school. It’s important to choose subjects that you’re passionate about, and eventually a career or career path will become clear. GCSE: English Literature and Language, Art, Drama, History, Science, French, Photography, Maths, Politics, Integrated Humanities (RE) A Level: History, English Literature, Psychology.
I initially studied for a BA Hons degree in English Literature and Language at Kings College London, which I really enjoyed. I subsequently studied for a Masters degree in History and Culture of Fashion at London College of Fashion, and following that I completed a visiting Research Fellowship at University of the Arts London. I also learnt a lot when I was working as the buyer of a vintage store, prior to and while completing the Masters. The great thing about being a historian is that you never stop learning and studying! In many ways you are always training as a historian. Your methods and research skills are constantly improving and you are always learning about new areas. In terms of academic training, the degree lasted 3 years and the masters degree was one year. But I don’t think my ‘training’ has stopped, it’s a career that is full of learning, studying, researching and training.
My Career Path
My career path has been quite unconventional; it’s certainly not been a linear process. After my studying my path was largely forged by carving out a space for myself online through writing a blog, and through this people found me for other opportunities. This also ensured I had examples of my work to send to commissioning editors at publishing houses. Be open to opportunities that come your way, but at the same time be cautious – sometimes saying no and using your time to focus where it’s needed is more powerful than saying yes to absolutely everything that comes your way.
Having a close group of friends who have been able to discuss my career plans and offerv advice has been invaluable in terms of support and guidance, and the ability to see things from a perspective different to your own. Many of these friends I met both at school and later university. I am lucky in that my family have never been anything other than supportive of whichever area I wanted to go into.
My career in many ways has been a series of goals set and then achieved – writing my first book, creating my first radio documentary, and then the TV series, for example. It’s good to think about your goals – immediate and long term – and then work back to see what you need to do to achieve them.
A large part of the challenge for me has been convincing people that clothing can be a great conduit to tell stories about the past. People often dismiss dress and fashion as frivolous and not worthy of study, so challenging these assumptions has been a long process. Working freelance has its own set of challenges and you have to be very organised with regards to invoicing, filing your tax return and budgeting your money to make sure it lasts between irregular payments. This is something that really should be taught in schools as more people switch to self-employment – so make sure you get to grips with this or get an accountant to help you!