Vörå, near the eastern coast of Gulf of Bothnia in Finland is the subject of an academic study entitled ‘Dress and Fashion In A Rural Community 1870 – 1920′. Written in 1972 by Bo Lönnqvist the content is based on recordings of old women telling about the usage of dress, collection of old photographs where dress is pictured on its wearers, photographing in detail all varieties of dress.
Chapter IV deals with dress and fashion. An isolated rural community comprising largely farmers – does fashion come into the equation? Actually, yes. This ethnological study gives fascinating insights into the arrival of a modern sense of fashion in a time of change from a natural economy to a money economy.
Lönnqvist argues that the most resistant forms of dress are connected with everyday life, having a high practical function. Almost medieval patterns can be found in women’s shifts, headscarves, leather footware and babies’ clothing.
The impulse to introduce new forms of clothing can be traced to:
- introducers of new clothes: pedlars, village shopkeepers etc, ie all people who brought in new materials and clothes for economic reasons.
- introducers of new ideas about clothes; schoolteachers, doctors and mid-wives, clergymen and their wives, founders of youth associations, temperance movements and other social organisations.
Participants in the study claim that people react to dress if someone differs in his clothes a) from the rest of his reference group b) from established, traditional dress. By extension fashion is viewed as some kind of changing force in the system of dress.
A person becomes conscious about dress as soon as he enters his first reference group (playmates, schoolmates, confirmants, unmarried youth etc). The reference group is the authority in matters of dress. Participants note that dress changed more slowly in the time of their parents, and that they themselves became conscious about “fashion” in their youth (through journals kept by the local seamstress – which they were able to read after having attended school not necessarily something their parents had done).
Essentially it’s established that in the relevant community fashion appears in the following way:
- all members of the group dress in the same way
- some form of dress is accepted simultaneously by all
- the form is of foreign (non-local) origin, it’s generally introduced by the local seamstress and thus depends on her taste and talent
- the conception of fashion is constantly influenced by the reactions of other members of the community (family, village etc). Their reactions and attitudes are decisive in the process of acceptance or rejection of new forms of dress.
On a final note these processes should be viewed against the change in garment making. In older times, fabric was woven at home, clothes were made at home. Then people started buying fabric but still made clothes at home. Eventually, all making was “outsourced” to the local seamstress (es). And then one day bought ready-to-wear.