Button Box: Feminine Niceties

Research output: Non-textual outputExhibition


I loosely divided my response up onto four areas, which all relate to the expectation of enduring beauty.

The inspiration for this work comes from references made to beauty advertising discussed throughout the book The Button Box by Lynn Knight. It struck me that this media positions a woman as a figure who should apparently always be striving for physical perfection, whilst seeking to get and then keep her man. Just as the choice of button displays and presents a variety of visual messages depending on its size, colour and style, so it seems does a woman.

The text included in all of my work has been lifted directly from real advertisements, mostly from the 1950’s post-war period. I’m interested in this period because it was a point in time when women were being put ‘back in their place’ after experiencing a comparative level of freedom during the Second World War. I had anticipated the need to subvert or change the text in some way in order to make my point, however the text is so ridiculous it was enough to simply apply it. It seems that we have been fighting these expectations ever since and I perceive that sadly little has changed from these adverts to those we see today.

Text and images have been hand-embroidered onto vintage dressing table cloths and garments as a means of connecting the feminine art of embroidery with the declarations of female perfection presented in the media. The objects selected, the process of hand stitching them and the embroidered outcomes are each intended to reflect both the powerlessness and the pleasure of being a woman whist challenging patriarchal perspectives on a woman’s body.

Work exhibited:
1. As long as you’re beautiful! (Dressing table cloth ‘quilt’. Assorted embroidered cloths and messages)
This collection of hand-embroidered vintage dressing table cloths explores the idea that a quilt in its most basic form is a collection different pieces of fabric that are pieced together to form a whole. By isolating individual words and phrases, taken directly from make-up advertisements from the 1950’s, the messages are ‘quilted’ together and the absurdity of the language is highlighted. I’ve also snuck in a few messages of my own, such as ‘rebel often!’

2. Ways to get your man...(Embroidered adverts on dressing table cloths)
These are exact copies of real adverts. I discovered several more with a similar theme. In each narrative the girl is offered a magic potion of sorts that will ensure her success in ‘getting her man’. Lipstick or soap solve the problem in these examples but it’s a small step to a magical elixir directly from a fairy tale. These narratives set the tone for expected behaviour as well as appearance.

3. Feminine Niceties (Embroidered Nighties)
Women are expected to do things to their bodies for the sake of appearing feminine and nice that are actually contrary to the natural state of things. Advertising has made this so normal that we often don’t question it further.
Vintage nighties or slips were selected because this is an item of clothing that is not actually necessary yet performs the purpose of perceivably making the woman become more visually appealing. I selected ‘normal’ changes that we make to our bodies: the removal of body hair; wearing underwear that impacts our shape (even the modern bra still does this); and dieting.
It was particularly interesting to see that weight is a fashionable consideration (rather than to do with health). Skinny is positioned as undesirable back in the 50’s, the exact opposite of now, with solutions and diets to put weight on rather than off.

4. The Dressing Table
(Dressing table - cloth with assorted trinkets, mirror etc) Finally, the dressing table pulled all of these different aspects together into a female space that has perhaps become lost in modern living.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2018
EventFestival of Quilts: The Button Box - NEC , Birmingham , United Kingdom
Duration: 9 Aug 201812 Aug 2018


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