Rosemary Hill entertains and informs in her lecture about women and clothes, Frock Consciousness. The phrase is Virginia Wolf’s who wrote:
‘My love of clothes interests me profoundly, only it is not love; and what it is I must discover.’
Hill reflects that this diary entry was written in the year that:
Woolf published Mrs Dalloway, which brought her to literary prominence; the previous year she had sat for her photograph in Vogue. For that she chose to wear a dress of her mother’s, which was too big for her and long out of fashion. To plant it in the most famous fashion magazine in Europe was to make a statement, however ambiguous. And the experience of the sitting prompted a further thought: ‘My present reflection is that people have any number of states of consciousness: & I should like to investigate the party consciousness, the frock consciousness etc. These states are very difficult … I’m always coming back to it … Still I cannot get at what I mean
I don’t suppose that I shall get at it either, but I will revolve the question again and apply the advantage of nearly a century of hindsight to the idea of frock consciousness, an idea that I think was not born but at least much heightened in that period between the world wars just as Woolf was trying to put her finger on it.
It’s fascinating. It answered questions a brother always puzzled about when he saw his sisters getting dressed (why on earth should girls’ buttons be on the opposite side?) and makes a case for the revolutionary importance of the pullover.
Worth reading in full here. The linked page contains a recording of the lecture, if you prefer to listen rather than read.