Thursday, 1 March 2012

The Appeal of a Tea Dress







I, like many others, have a tendency to idolise the past. For the past is present in the methods of capturing and continuing: burned onto celluloid; cut into the fabric of vintage dresses; recorded onto the grooves of a vinyl record. These visions of decades known only by our grandparents or great grandparents are probably as realistic as the Hollywood films that perpetuate the desire for ‘times gone by’. The fifties may have beckoned forward Dior’s ‘New Look’, but women’s rights and civil liberties were a good ten years away from gaining prominence. Similarly, the landscape in Thomas Hardy’s novels is rich and evocative, but much as I would like to visit the hills and towns he created, I can be thankful for not being born in the times about which he was writing.

However, the allure of something beyond our present existence is appealing. It is unadulterated escapism. Screwball comedies, musicals and films where costumes took prominence over plot are all temporary worlds to skip into for an hour or two. A word often associated with the past is ‘genteel’. A longing of sorts for more mellow years, perhaps? A refuge from the constant, but fleeting, renewal of information pulsing across the internet? A belief, not that the grass is greener, but that life was somehow better? It is easy to regress into something contained – it has happened; unchangeable, irrevocable. It is safe. And furthermore, we can pick and choose parts of the past at will in order to best suit our mood or longing. We can glide over the well-dressed surface, only descending beneath the image if the fancy takes.



(Images of Orla Kiely AW 2012 show courtesy of the beautiful and very intelligent Dina, with whom I had the great pleasure of spending time at LFW)


However, the Orla Kiely presentation at LFW 2012 provided ample inspiration when it came to regressing to snapshots of dance halls and velvet curtains. The theatrical set up - a charming scene on repeat - featured dancing models, a live band and tables with refreshments. It was the equivalent of a British Marie Antoinette – less pastels and satin shoes; more ankle socks and tea dresses. The best aspect was that the models looked genuinely happy. They smiled when they caught your eye. They spun with their partners as the trumpeter played a flourish. They performed the role of nervous debutantes waiting to be chosen for a dance. Overhead, a gold glitter ball threw out flecks of light, and the viewers crowded in two narrow channels on either side of the mini production. I heard tell of cakes earlier in the day, but the catering was pared down to champagne by the time Dina and I immersed ourselves among the dresses and ponytails. The clothes themselves were both sweet and classic, with bows and full skirts scattered across the scene. To use some fashion jargon: the prints were delicate, and the fabrics light, with the retro palette that defines Kiely. To add my own twist, I felt that the girls looked like the grown-up embodiments of an Enid Blyton story – imagine Anne from the Famous Five discovering the delight of gold collars and sweet berry-burgundy dresses with buttons strung down the front, and then sneaking out to go dancing.

Dance halls are now rather monochrome tinted – recognised more as an emblem of the past than an embodiment of the present. They still exist, just. But Saturday night is no longer ruled by the Waltz or even the Argentine Tango – instead replaced by gigs and clubs. However the principle of dancing is still divided between those who practise it as an art, and those who take part for the freedom and abandonment to rhythm. It is a creative form like many others – being both exhilarating to watch or to participate.

It is also perhaps a chance to embody another character, or at least another mood, for a few hours. It starts with the ritual of ‘dressing the part’, whether in a sequinned dress that shivers with movement or a full length green silk gown. Fashion throughout the ages has provided another form of escapism. It always has, and still does, allow the assuming of a persona; the expression of an individual; the chance for rebellion. Clothes and the fashion industry can be highly theatrical, much like the dance hall with its sprung floor and faint smell of beeswax mingling with the perfume of an evening. In the case of Orla Kiely, it was refreshing to watch a presentation that combined that very theatricality with the practicality of a collection - in which the clothes could be observed in motion, as they would naturally be worn.

A photographic shoot also involves an element of fantasy – of carefully choosing, laying out and slipping on a character. The particular persona I whipped up here for the top photos was a purely Orla Kiely inspired creation, with a hint of the previous decades I find so fascinating: with a vintage tea-dress, blouse and accessories, alongside second hand Betty Barclay silver heels and ankle socks (not a natural combination for me). I wanted to spin across the fields in the sunshine. 

34 comments:

daisymay aka Chantele said...

Darling outfit! This is the kinda thing I would wear!

AVY said...

Very pretty.

/ Avy
http://MyMotherFuckedMickJagger.blogspot.com



Natalie Suarez said...

super duper cute! xx

natalieoffduty.blogspot.com

Anna said...

pretty dress

Shophopper said...

Your Enid Blyton-reference made me smile! I don't know if they have something similar in the UK, but in Belgium we have this dancing initiative called 'Radio Modern'. They host parties, sometimes during the day, sometimes at night, with fifties music. You have the option of attending dancing classes before the event. It's wildly popular over here, everybody loves to dress up for it. Not very Blytonesque, but it does thrive on the phenomenon you describe so well: we do all love to dwell in the more picturesque aspects of the past, don't we? When even Woody Allen is determined to devote movies to the subject, you both must be on to something!

Josephine said...

Gorgeous! Absolutely perfect for this sunny spring weather we're having x

Claire said...

I think this just may be my favorite outfit of yours yet!
xxx

sacramento said...

Always unique and profoud.
Much love, my dear Rosalid.
XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXx

Natalie Anne Bourn said...

a beautiful dress captured in beautiful photographs. What a lovely blog to come across. (I agree, Dina is lovely- I go to uni with her)
www.theorangewalls.blogspot.com

alexandratherese said...

So beautifully written as always Rosalind and great to see a snapshot of Fashion Week. I haven't seen any of the coverage at all as I've been knee deep in revision - my first exam is straight after Easter - so this has soothed me, seeing the wonderful show at Orla Kiely. I am definitely with you on the grown up Enid Blyton front - I loved those books as a kid and always wanted to go back in time to the days of boarding schools and summer holidays spent on deserted islands and in climbing trees. In terms of escapism, I received th complete Mad Men box set for Christmas and my solace from revision comes in the form of an episode per night (if I'm lucky). I'm absolutely loving the acting and superb script-writing as well as the aesthetic of it all - the music, the scenery, and most importantly the costumes. Even though I'm incredibly last on the band wagon I just want to take my time with them and enjoy each episode for what it is! it's been lovely to catch up on your blog - I published my first post in a month today an although I kknow the quality of my writing isn't realy up to standard it just felt so wonderful to express myself and write something that wasn't an analysis essay or a history revision sheet. Hope college is going wonderfully for you, Alexandra xx

Lydia said...

Sounds lovely. I love that the models were dancing. I have been wanting to do socks with strappy heels foreverrrr and never seem to own the right socks for it!

Closet Fashionista said...

I LOVE that dress!
and yea, I always like to wish I lived in the past but then I remember that there were a lot of problems too. So I can settle for watching movies to escape :)
http://www.closet-fashionista.com/

Toshiko Shek said...

i adore this outfit! you look great!
itsnother-itsme.blogspot.com

Vix said...

Fabulous post, as always, Roz.
I used to love dipping into Enid Blyton, imagining midnight feasts, boarding school and roaming the countryside in search of adventure. I love a 1970s spy thriller where there's no internet and mobile phones, too. A time within my memory but a world away from modern life as we know it.
That outfit is glorious, ankle socks so become you. The world of tea dances still exist around here albeit held at lunch time in the town hall for the elderly. xxx

Emily, Ruby Slipper Journeys said...

I love this look, particularly the silver shoes and socks combination. Orla Kiely's presentation looked wonderful, from all the pictures I've seen. Nostalgia for the past is a funny thing... I try and remind myself that the background of some of my favourite eras style and music wise was economic crisis and war, but nonetheless I'm drawn to the idea of tea dances. And tea dresses, of course!

Soccer Mom Style said...

the whole look is so cute with silver shoes and socks!
escapism can be so sweet!
xx
maya

daisychain said...

You look so different in these photos; like a grown up porcelain doll or something...I don't know, I can't quite put my finger on it, but I love it! x

styleeast said...

Before I even started reading this properly, I felt like I already had. And I think it's because you must have told me about your plans for this post when we went out for dinner! There's a real 'tea dance' scene in east London and it's wonderful, especially in the summer when it's at the outdoor fairs. You pull off the look perfectly and your tea dress is just lovely. So great seeing you at LFW, looking forward to the next time xx

Penny Dreadful said...

Obviously I adore the past, but it is certainly more an appreciation of art and design through the ages than any kind of desire to regress to a time when things like class, women's rights, and healthcare were so much worse than today. I think many people get the two things confused.

Anyway, sounds like a wonderful presentation - particularly for the smiles, which is the one thing I really feel is missing from much fashion at the moment. Why is it so uncool to be happy?

Marta said...

You're just goergous! You've got this kind of vintage beauty! Like from the old fashion magazine! Why won't you make a post with your beauty tips?

Xoxo

Kate said...

Such a beautiful dress and I love those ankle socks with heels! I've heard so much about the Orla Kiely presentation and it sounds so wonderful, like drifting back to a different era! I agree that it's sad dancing has turned into clubs where you just jump up and down in bodycon dresses, rather than waltzing around a ballroom in a flowing dress. Beautiful post.
p.s. I saw your Charlotte Taylor A/W 2012 lookbook, congratulations! The photographs are incredible!

Zorian said...

I love the post. The tea dress is one of my favorite dress styles. Dressed up or down it always gets my attention.

Aliya said...

Your dress is beautiful!! I love wearing collared shirts under dresses! You look gorgeous, as always! Lovely pictures!

x Aliya
www.papermoonsandmacarons.blogspot.com

The Foolish Aesthete said...

Since I grew up watching musical films from the 50s, full skirts and bows used to be the embodiment of "feminine" in my youthful mind! Also, seeing photos of my mom from this period reinforced that impression. Your outfit surely transports this sentiment to present times! It sounds like LFW was lots of fun. xx

minnja said...

Amazing dress!

minnja.blogspot.com

LOVE
Minnja

Jo said...

Orla's show truly looks incredible - dancing is the absolute perfect presentation <3 and I adore your tea dress; the colour is oh-so marvellous!

x
Lost in the Haze: Fashion Blog

stephanie... said...

this is so beautiful! it's almost magical it's so pretty and inventive and... inspiring haha. that word gets overused but this really is :)

Becky said...

That blue dress is so beautiful. Dainty and elegant yet cute and quirky at the same time. I love it!

Becky
xx

http://www.beckybedbug.com

Elyse said...

I love this outfit! Your hair is beautiful and the blue looks gorgeous on you!

Elyse
shotandsweetelyse.blogspot.com

The Braided Bandit said...

So beautiful! Your photos look like they should be straight out of a lookbook themselves! The dress has such a pretty print and cut!

Caitie said...

wow, just came across your blog and now I'm hooked! you are absolutely beautiful and your style is just so perfect!

xxx
www.ladyalamode.com

Natalie Koltunovskaya said...

Very beautiful dress!

The Bookish Fashionista said...

Great post, Rosalind! I think everyone of us likes to dive into dreams of other times - though we all do it in different ways. Vintage clothing is one of them, but a differnet one that I continually fall victim to is literature. There is something magical about the world of classics, may it be the world of Jane Austen or Hardy.

Rationally, I know that I would never want to live in these times, but I think there's a part in everyone of us that says that everything is better in a time that is not now - maybe the future, maybe the past. Part of it is probably because these times are illusive and only lived by us through subjective eyes.

I've seen videos of this presentation and I'm sure it must have been very magical!

Have a great day
Melanie

Alex said...

I must say this collection and the lookbook are beyond amazing.
xx