'What do you mean by dressing?' Ruskin and Dress
A lecture by Dr Rachel Dickinson
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The Victorian polymath John Ruskin wanted to improve the world. One of the ways he shared his vision for a better society was through the ideas of cloth and clothing. This lecture starts with his question ‘What do you mean by dressing?’ It uses examples from across Ruskin’s writing, including his early plans for The Guild of St George (the charity Ruskin founded), to outline five lessons: Question and redefine common cultural assumptions; Recognise that economics and aesthetics are intertwined; Use art to teach: here, a model for a well-dressed society; We should all learn Ruskinian ‘dress-making’; and, We must actively make the world more beautiful. It concludes with the contemporary example of Whitelands College and the continuing tradition that each May Monarch chooses a charity to support. The outgoing May Monarch’s chosen charity, War Child, embodies Ruskin’s vision of actively helping to improve the world by teaching, feeding, sheltering those in need – and making what Ruskin would call a ‘well-dressed’ society.
Dr Rachel Dickinson is a Principal Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University. She is based at the Cheshire Faculty in Crewe, where she teaches English literature in the Department of Interdisciplinary Studies. Her current research is on Ruskin and textiles, as well as using Ruskin as a source of inspiration in thinking about twenty-first century problems. She is a Director of The Guild of St George.