The Social Significance of Modernist Pattern in Everyday Dress




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Peer reviewed



Modernist pattern could be considered as an oxymoron and occupies an ambiguous position within Modernism. However, bold abstract and figurative Modernist designs are widespread in everyday dress prints of the interwar period. A class differentiation in the market acceptance and appreciation of Modernism in dress fabric has been identified. Contrary to the views of contemporary writers from the world of high art and design such as Pevsner (1937) and Nash (1932), who perceived Modern design as of interest only to a small elite group of educated consumers, evidence from trade magazines, promotional and in-house publications, company records and the surviving artefacts themselves suggest that Modernist designs were enormously popular within mass-market decoration and everyday fashion. Surprisingly, the research has identified that working clothes such as overalls and headscarves were often very avant-garde in their print designs – perhaps as cheaper products, they had a more fast fashion ethos, with bolder, more eye-catching designs for fast moving, shorter lifetime products. This paper will examine the range of design styles available, related to price and market positioning and to the types of products (for example, some product types provided the opportunity for larger canvas, expressive design). It will consider the promotion, representation and interpretation of pattern in everyday clothing in the interwar period. The perception of clothing and pattern design in terms of its cultural differentiation in the treatment of taste as a marker of class identity will also be examined. Key archive sources are from Marks & Spencer Ltd., the Calico Printers’ Association, Ferguson Bros. Ltd., Turnbull & Stockdale Ltd., Kays catalogue, the CWS and Walsall Museums’ Hodson shop collection.



Textiles, History, Fashion, Modernism, Pattern


Baines, E. (2019) The Social Significance of Modernist Pattern in Everyday Dress. Everyday Fashion: Extraordinary Stories of Ordinary Clothes conference, University of Huddersfield and University of Leeds, 27th – 28th June 2019.


Research Institute

Institute of Art and Design