‘Fashioned Lives’ by Dr. Lyanne Holcombe, Lecturer in Critical Studies for Fashion Design

Lyanne’s research reflects historical and contemporary fashion design, including a focus on style and photography, and the processes of craft in the context of printed textiles production and oral history in relation to the study of objects and interiors. Part of this involves the teaching and study of fashioned lives, in the past and at present. Printed media and photography inspire me, and how this reflects modern identities in the city, a kind of street style and formation of the feminine over the years and weaved into our cultural fabric in time and space.

Lyanne’s recent publication entitled Space, Efficiency and Service: Luxury and Femininity in the Establishments of J. Lyons & Co (1895-1935) in the academic journal Luxury: History, Culture and Consumption (Taylor & Francis, 2020) explores how young women expressed themselves in the early twentieth century, as fashionable employment emerged in the West End of London. The role of the modern waitress gave a sense of excitement and wonder for those who worked as Nippies in the famous Lyons Corner Houses and Hotels. Such glamourizing of these everyday roles was pronounced in the Hollywood movies of the time. As modernity represented the jazz age and the influence of a leisure culture, to be employed by J. Lyons & Co meant that women gained independence and the affordability of a stylish lifestyle, that was previously unobtainable to the working class girl. 

The modern young women whom Lyons employed personified an image of space, efficiency and service. Girls who were neatly dressed in an updated version of servant clothing which by the late 1920’s was further glamourized by the addition of a stylized cap and collar. Whilst the space of London urbanized, the number of women employed increased. Such an impact created various new industries that women sought to enjoy.

“By exploring gender in relation to this, I was able to unravel and to explore how styling was a huge part of the image of luxury, in relation to publicity, and how femininity became the central focus for this. As an ongoing project that has spanned many years of PhD research, I enjoyed the rewards of seeing my work on glossy paper and supported by the photographs of the women I’d spent much time exploring.” Dr Lyanne Holcombe