London College of Fashion: History lesson

I was treated to a potted history of the London College of Fashion yesterday, some of which I thought I’d share with you. At the start of the 20th century, Barrett Street and Shoreditch trade schools in the east end of London were training 12-14-year-old girls in the art of dressmaking. It was pretty much like any other school at the time – strict and with an obligatory uniform – but with two thirds of their 30hrs per week being spent on trade subjects such as dress-making, embroidery, tailoring and haute couture techniques. English was taught with elocution lessons, to enable the working-class students to interact better with their (eventual) upper-class clients. Students would make their own clothes, progressing to dressing the teaching staff if they were good enough. Courses finished in March, just in time for the London season. From the 1920s, hairdressing, beauty therapy and menswear were also taught.

The late 1920s saw a drop in demand for highly decorative clothing and evening wear and so ready-to-wear affected the curriculum at the trade schools. The 1930s saw much more practical day wear being produced by students and, after the Second World War, men were recruited to the schools for the first time. In 1965 a new purpose-built building just off Oxford Street in central London was opened and, in 1967, the trade schools merged to become the London College of Fashion. The London Institute (which became the University of the Arts) was formed in 1986 to protect art and design education in London, and it is through this institution that LCF started its first degree courses in 1989. Cordwainers College joined forces with LCF in 2000 and has helped to further cement the idea that those involved in fashion are not involved in mere frippery. The fashion industry is full of designers, illustrators, photographers, costume makers, scientists, managers, journalists, leather workers, crafts people and stylists. They are a diverse group of people but have one thing in common – the ability to think quickly and be sure of what they’re doing. It’s a serious business, fashion.

Image via the London College of Fashion Archive on VADS.

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