Sunday, 30 January 2011

Barefooted Aristocracy: The Blounts and the Healthy & Artistic Dress Union

Those of you who have read my previous post 'The Corset' may know that I had found a reported connection between Ethel Blount and the Healthy & Artistic Dress Union, a radical movement of it's time.   I have now confirmed these connections from looking at some original Healthy & Artistic Dress Union documents which are held at the Women's Library.  I was disappointed that I found no articles written by Ethel Blount for the movement, but instead I found that both 'Godfrey Blount, Esq' and 'Mrs Godfrey Blount' were on the Healthy & Artistic Dress Union committee.  They joined the committee and the union around July 1904, and were both still on the committee in October 1906 which is the last copy of The Dress Review I could find.

from The Dress Review, January 1904

The objects of the Union were stated in their literature as "to promote such improvement in dress as shall make it consistent with health, comfort, activity, and graceful appearance, yet shall not involve any obvious departure from recognized conventional modes."  From reading their journal, The Dress Review, it is possible to identify a few key issues that the Healthy & Artistic Dress Union were addressing at the time: promoting the wearing of shorter skirts, sandals and not wearing hats or corsets.

In April 1903, The Dress Review reported "we hail with joy the return of the short skirt for walking.   In Paris, Brighton and even London (always behind in these things), most of the smartest women are to be seen in frocks quite clear of the ground; they (the frocks) are well out and the same length all around.  If the "smart set" wear them, there is hope that such incongruous sights as, for instance, a nurse with a trailing skirt wheeling a baby car across a muddy road, will soon be a thing of the past and a clutched up gown will be quite dowdy."
The Dress Review, cover illustrated by Walter Crane who was a Vice-President of the Healthy & Artistic Dress Union

In September 1903, they reported "the short skirt has evidently come to stay for out-door wear, and what a relief that will be for muddy autumn days.  The emancipation of the foot goes on.  There has been a great increase in the number of sandals worn on bare feet among our young people.  We saw an article in one of the daily papers on "Barefooted Aristocracy in the Park", and we rejoice to notice the spread of this custom, not only among the so-called aristocracy this year or last, but also among those poor little ones who were formerly laced up in boots all made of hard, bad leather, which not infrequently weakened their ankles for life; and among these patient little ones, who suffer so terribly from being in every sense of the word badly dressed...they also are happy in newly found freedom for their toes and ankles.  Perhaps next year we may even  see their elders following this good example.  We hear too that it is the fashion upon suitable occasions for ladies to go hatless (we believe they carry very gorgeous sunshades) and this surely is a step in advance, though a mere man was heard to say that women could not be happy lacking the joy of jabbing long skewers into their hats!  Bareheaded and barefooted sounds delightful."
from The Dress Review, September 1903

In the January 1904 issue, there is a specific parallel with the 'peasant dress' advocated by the Peasant Arts movement as M.A.Biggs urges that "the blouse, this should never be worn tucked inside the skirt, uless that skirt be very light indeed or well supported from the shoulders, so as to avoid an uncomfortable mass of material about the wrist, and an injurious weight resting on the soft viscera of the body.  Can we not again encourage the idea of wearing the blouse in tunic fashion, the lower part descending outside the skirt, so as not to interfere with the supporting lining or bands insider over the shoulders...this style might also be adapted as a kind of support to the bust if needed, resembling the outside stays of various peasant costumes."

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