Author Interview: Lydia Edwards
Author I draw inspiration from: Most recently, Anne Hollander. Her work on the role and history of men's clothing was seminal and has been hugely inspiring to me in my current research.
Favorite place to read a book: Lying in bed! There's no better place, and I've felt that way since I was small and devoured books under the duvet with a flashlight. I also have to agree with your previous interviewee, Bridget Quinn: nothing (except bed) quite beats a bath. It may result in some book casualties, but I think a slightly battered book just provides character and shows that it's been loved and enjoyed.
Book character I’d like to be stuck in an elevator with: Anthony Blanche from Brideshead Revisited - I reckon he'd have enough stories to pass the time. Also Flora Poste from Cold Comfort Farm: her practicality would be good in that situation and would probably stop the rest of us panicking.
The moment I knew I wanted to become an author: I think I've always known, right from when I would write endless pony stories as a child! Coupled with a love of drawing, I was endlessly scribbling something. The moment I knew I wanted to be a fashion history author, specifically, was when I first got the idea for 'How to Read a Dress'. It seemed almost vocational, like something I *had* to do, and after years of study I finally felt I had the confidence in myself that I needed.
Hardback, paperback, ebook or audiobook: I'm always drawn to hardbacks because they are so beautiful and seem so permanent...they seem to give a book the appropriate respect. However, given frequent moves I've done throughout my life, paperback is far more practical. I've never managed to get into ebooks.
The last book I read: Sex and Suits by Anne Hollander.
Pen & paper or computer: Computer (but pen & paper every time for jotting down ideas, a great excuse to use some beautiful notebooks too).
Book character I think I’d be best friends with: Elizabeth Bennet from Pride & Prejudice, or Jo March from Little Women. I think both would provide loyal friendship and plenty of laughs. I'd love to ask what they thought about the depictions of various actors who have immortalised them on stage and screen over the years.
If I wasn’t an author, I’d be a: Costume designer - as long as I could only work on period productions! When I first became obsessed with fashion history this was my first career idea, and I was lucky enough to meet the late, great costume and set designer John Elvery many years ago. He really inspired me and, although I didn't end up going down that route, I still have a passionate interest in costume interpretation/inspiration, and enjoy writing about it from an academic point of view.
Favorite decade in fashion history: Probably 1810-20, harking back to my first fashion history love which was the Regency. But that's almost impossible to answer! I guess it comes down to whether I'm considering dress from a purely aesthetic perspective, styles I'd like to wear myself, or ones that are most socially/politically interesting. I think the very early 19th century fits into the first two - though the shape of 1660s dresses and the cut of late 18th century robes à l'anglaise can also make me weak at the knees. The years spanning c.1900-1930 always astound me because of the sheer extent of sartorial change that most women would experience over the course of a lifetime. To go from long skirts and corsets to loose, dropped waists and ankle-length or above skirts must have been mind-blowing and fundamentally altered not only the way she saw herself, but the way the rest of the world saw her.
Place I’d most like to travel: New Zealand (including the costume collection of TePapa) or Stockholm and its Royal Armouries, which house (amongst many other treasures) the most incredible collection of extant 17th century menswear.
My signature drink: Either Brandy Alexander or Gin Fizz, two cocktails I was introduced to through TV adaptations of classics: Brideshead Revisited (1982) and The Jewel in the Crown (1984). Both seem to sum up their respective settings; decadent 1920s Oxford and balmy but divided 1930s India under British rule. Of course, for me, both also evoke the fashions of the era!
Favorite artist: Towards the top of a very long list, John Singer Sargent. Along with Ingres, his depictions of dress are mouth-wateringly perfect and offer so much potential for anyone interested in dress history. Of course they only depict the clothing of a very small segment of society, but through them we can chart key fashionable changes and see how new modes were worn and accessorised.
Number one on my bucket list: To finally visit the Costume Institute at the Met. I feel I know it so well, but have never actually been!