25 August 2023 -

Report: Regional Dress: Between Tradition and Modernity by Sara Hume (recipient of the Research Publication Grant)

My book, Regional Dress: Between Tradition and Modernity was published by Bloomsbury
Visual Arts on 14 July 2022. The book is currently available in hardback and available at about 100 libraries around the world. I have recently learned from the publisher that the book will be released in paperback in December 2023.

In order to better understand how regional dress developed and evolved across Western Europe from the nineteenth through the twenty-first centuries, this book dress looks at Alsace as a case study. The rural population left little written record so the methods of material culture which permit a direct look at the things that they had and used provide the most direct insights into their lived experience. The intricacies of regional dress reveal the complexity of rural society: the religious divisions, the differences between rich and poor, the tension between the desire to protect the traditions and the desire to adopt modern technologies and lifestyles.

Thanks to the support I received from the DHS Research Publication Grant, the book includes 22 full colour illustrations in addition to the 63 black and white illustrations. The colour illustrations permit the book to evoke the brilliant colour of regional dress,
particularly in the region of Alsace, France. The book includes reproductions of a range of visual materials including costume illustrations from early nineteenth century books on regional dress, political cartoons, advertisements, paintings, existing costumes in museum collections and photographs of twenty-first century festivals. These visual sources complement the more traditional forms of written and oral sources which include newspaper articles, probate inventories, marriage contracts, personal correspondences, and oral histories.

This book argues that regional dress emerged in France and Germany to signal religious identity and was worn for special occasions related to the church. Colour was an essential component of these regional dress practices. For example in Alsace women signalled religious identity through the colour of the bows that formed the headdresses. The full-colour plates enable the book to showcase these distinctions and their evolution across time. Gradually, the centrality of religion became less important as artists documented the styles in paintings, photographs and graphic arts used for propaganda. Much of the research into regional dress fixates on the idea of authenticity with the assumption that the original, often religious usages of the dress are more valid than the later political and touristic usages. This book takes a serious look at all of the different phases and the central role that artists, ethnographers and later folk groups have played in assigning meaning to the dress as well as influencing its appearance.

The chapters consider costume in different ways: as an element in a performance, as a consumer good, as an image, as a museum object, and as a component of living history. Regional dress is fundamentally a local phenomenon yet one that evolved according to a similar trajectory in regions across Europe. In looking at regional dress in Alsace, this book explores the complicated ways that Alsace’s situation at the crossroads of France and Germany affected the meaning, function, and appearance of clothing, while also illuminating how modernity was experienced in rural Europe more generally. This book corrects for the underrepresentation of rural populations in design study as well as highlights the contributions of people of minority religions.

Sara Hume is Professor and Curator at Kent State University Museum, USA.


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