Knowledge Exchanges

Global North/France

Shawkay Ottmann

Dissertation Title

‘Made in (England) France’: Dress and Disguise of the Special Operations Executive

During this programme I have been able to focus specifically on dress history, examining the ways in which identity and society interact within dress. I have expanded my research to include the making and manufacture of dress and continually delved deeper into the relationship between wear and the body to further understand how people use clothing.

In my object essay, I researched a Victorian mourning ensemble from the 1880s created by Jay’s General Mourning Warehouse in London. The mourning warehouse was built to service excessive mourning regulations and aided in popularising innovations in textile and dress manufacturing as well as contributing to the rise of department stores and catalogues. My historiography examined the chemise gown, popular from the late eighteenth century until 1815 in France. It is generally agreed the chemise was important because of how it reflected the shift in society at a tumultuous period in history. The chemise represented a canvas for politics and a means of redefining gender.

My dissertation was about how the French section (F Section) of the Special Operations Executive (SOE) utilised dress. The SOE was a highly regarded British intelligence organisation that operated during World War II, with sections around the world. F Section used dress as camouflage to aid integrating into the maquis (French Resistors) and French society with the aim to escape the notice of the Nazi occupiers and other enemies while building up sabotage networks. The agents’ experiences were explored by reading memoirs written by former agents and reports in the SOE archives. Dress was contextualised through the lens of wartime uniforms and the creation of French-styled dress in Britain for disguise. This allowed for an investigation of how dress was used by agents, how they adapted to regional dress styles in wartime France, how agents’ clothing worked or failed, and how clothing was traded, gifted, and obtained. The research finding was that in war, dress was a system built on relationships and connection.

While on the programme, I also published an article in Fashion Studies titled “Indigenous Dress Theory and Dress in Canadian Residential Schools.” For the launch of the journal I was part of a panel with three other panelists, Dr. Ellen Sampson, Philip Sparks, and Dr. Cheryl Thompson. Additionally, during Indigenous Fashion Week in Toronto I was also part of a panel, “Indigenous Fashion Education: Supporting the Next Generation”, where I discussed my experience as an Indigenous student in the Fashion Design program at Ryerson University.

Material History /Virtual World

The V&A/RCA History of Design MA is offered jointly by the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Royal College of Art. It encourages interdisciplinary, innovative and critical approaches to the history of design across a range of mediums, places and times. Students work closely with the collections and curators at the V&A, as well as participating in the creative community at the RCA.