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Film costumes and feelings in British cinema from the 1930s to 1950s

Thursday 3 February 2022, 6.00PM to 7.15 pm

Speaker(s): Dr Bethan Bide (University of Leeds)

Film costume is often thought of as surface. However, enlarged on-screen, films present audiences with a hyper-real version of the materiality of clothes – whether familiar through their similarity to audiences' own clothes or alien in their extravagance or historical setting – and this material experience acts a powerful form of emotional communication. This talk asks what we can learn about the relationship between film costume, and the historical study of emotions by investigating how film costumes were designed and made in order to communicate material experiences to British cinema audiences between the 1930s and 1950s.

By studying the construction, materials and wear evidenced in surviving costumes and film footage, and by contextualizing these through other materials, including sketches, wardrobe and location research, and press cuttings, this talk suggests that costumes were designed to evoke complex and often contradictory sets of emotions within cinema audiences. Through this, it argues that film costume can further our understanding of the British public’s changing emotional relationship to clothes during a turbulent period when conflict and global geopolitics disrupted every aspect of life, offering an insight into how mid-century audiences understood their place within contemporary British society and their relationship to the nation’s past.

About the speaker

Dr Bethan Bide is Lecturer in Design and Cultural Theory at the University of Leeds. Her research focuses on the use of material fashion objects and considers the relationship between materiality, memory and the stories fashion can tell us about social history. In 2017 Bethan received her PhD, entitled 'Austerity fashion 1945-1951: rebuilding London fashion cultures after the Second World War', from Royal Holloway, University of London. Prior to this, Bethan worked as a researcher and producer of comedy programmes for BBC Radio 4. 

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This talk is part of the spring seminar programme of the Institution for the Public Understanding of the Past. All are welcome. Talks will last 45-50 minutes, followed by a Q&A with the speaker.

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Location: This talk will be online via Zoom. Joining information will be circulated shortly prior to the event.

Admission: Free

Email: ipup-enquiries@york.ac.uk

Telephone: 01904 322961