Reads – Dressed For War

Vintage fashion is a bit of an obsession of mine.

I love how it transports you to another time and place; how it brings history to sparkly/embroidered/pleated/knitted/colourful/woven (the list goes on and on) life; how there’s a story, a wearer, a maker behind each garment; how it teaches me lessons about what clothes and styles work for me; how it makes me feel a bit braver when I pick an outfit.

And writing all that down in a dodgily punctuated paragraph makes me realise that vintage fashion actually has certain parallels with reading.

*sits back to mull over this epiphany*

Anyway.

Dressed For War by Julie Summers

Dressed For War by Julie Summers is a biography that shines a light on the life of Audrey Withers, the editor of British Vogue between 1940 and 1960.

Having now discovered Audrey Withers, I can’t quite believe I hadn’t heard of (or noticed, perhaps) her before – she was a gentle giant of the publishing and fashion world, with a quietly powerful influence on the public’s mood, at a critical moment in British history. She was well connected and well respected in important spheres throughout her career, and her progressive views lead the way for changes that we take for granted today.

‘I have always realised that in some important respects I am not a ‘natural’ Vogue editor. I have tried hard to alter or suppress certain attitudes and qualities which I realised were not in the picture, and to cultivate others which were… I think the outlook of an editor cannot help but be reflected in a magazine, but I make bold to say that my outlook (which would not have been rightly the magazine’s outlook fifteen or twenty years ago, and may not be right in the future – unless I and the times can change along together) was right in the war years and is right now.’

Silhouette
me and my shadow exploring the Fashion and Textile Museum in London

One of my favourite sections of the book explores Audrey’s working relationship with the pioneering American model, photographer, and journalist Lee Miller. Again, I can’t quite believe I hadn’t heard of Miller before – she’s an extraordinary character who forged her own fascinating path through the world. I certainly know who’s biography is top of my list to read next!

Obviously, the focus of the book is Audrey, the world of Vogue, and fashion (plus Lee Miller), but the author delves into plenty of historically important moments and their impacts on the everyday lives of Britons and Europeans. Books like Dressed For War help to bring the dates, numbers, and statistics of World War II to stark life, and certainly helped me keep being under temporary lockdown in perspective. A pandemic is obviously not great (understatement of the decade), but fifty-seven nights straight of bombing over London was worse.

Dressed For War was a wonderful sneaky peek inside the world of Audrey Withers and 1940’s magazine publishing, filled with a cast of astonishing personalities, a lot of painful history, and plenty of beautiful fashion.

And if that sounds like your cup of tea, you should definitely read it!

Some articles on the subject I found interesting…

How British Vogue’s Wartime Editor Audrey Withers Changed Fashion – And Feminism – Forever

Don’t Let History Forget This Incredible Female World War II Photographer

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