Workhouse Fashion

Clothing ad for Gudrun Sjoden catalog, from New Yorker magazine, October 12, 2020.

I know this has been a horrible year — worldwide. But, in the category of WTF (“What the Fashion? ! ?”) ideas, this one struck me as inexplicable. Fashion takes its inspiration from strange sources, but do we really want to dress like the children in a Victorian workhouse?

Is that the zeitgeist for 2020? The Daily Mail posted a slideshow of “Evocative Pictures” from the Crumpsall Workhouse in Manchester, circa 1897. This how the old, the destitute, the orphans and the sick were housed and dressed 120 years ago. One reason aged couples and families avoided the relative safety of the workhouse was that they would be separated — men and boys from women and girls.

The 21st century hasn’t offered much improvement for the destitute, but our times are sufficiently depressing without dressing like Victorian orphans….

Victorian workhouses cropped children’s hair to prevent lice from spreading. Nice detail, photo stylists!

Time for me to get out of these gray pajamas and into the brightest clothes in my closet!


Filed under 1870s to 1900s fashions, Musings

27 responses to “Workhouse Fashion

  1. Well, ok, but I like those clothes. I have those kinds of outfits and make unconstructed loos-fitting garments. I didn’t know I was channelling the poor people in the workhouse! I like them anyway!
    bonnie in provence

  2. This is a continuation of the Gudren Sjoden look but in more sombre colours. Not only Victorian workhouse children had their hair shorn off – my dad told me that he and other boys would get their hair shorn off in the summer to minimize the likelihood of lice – this was in rural central Europe in the 1930s.

    • One of the few photos of my father as a child — one of 8 boys — also has a very close haircut. The family was living in a tent at the time, U S A in 1911.

    • Laura

      I agree with susew. The loose clothes in natural fibers are very much Gudren Sjödén’s look, whatever the year. I admit that she usually goes for brighter colors, but I don’t fault her for going with a subdued color palette this year. From the Star Tribune in 2018: “Sjödén doesn’t pay much mind to her detractors. She’s outlasted innumerable trend-focused and politically reactionary brands, in part because her iconic style transcends the seasonal whims of the fast-fashion world.”

      Sjödén; “I am inspired by the folklore of Sweden…where the clothes are colorful and innocent,” she said. “These clothes have been around for hundreds of years.”

  3. lauriebrown54

    About the only inspiration I could think of that would be worse than workhouse chic would be the winding cloths they wrapped bodies in during the Plague. No thanks.

  4. Michelle

    For some reason it makes me think of 90’s heroin chic. Didn’t like that look either. But maybe it’s the dullness of the colours that I don’t like. You made me laugh though.

  5. I understand what you mean – not very cheering in such a difficult year. However to be fair to Gudrun Sjoden, some of the clothes are in beautiful bright shades like cherry red and amethyst. They are very easy to wear and good for those of us with less than perfect figures. Also the company’s environmental commitment does appear to be genuine.

  6. Goodness gracious moi… 🙈
    Am getting out my teal & peacock right along with you!
    🦚 🦚 🦚 🦚 🦚 🦚

  7. OMG! YES indeed, they do look like “Victorian orphans!” I’m with you. Time to pull the brightest clothes from my closet!!! Take care!!!

  8. Hahaha! Workhouse chic, I had to laugh with that funny expression. 😀 I think the colours used for the ad don’t do justice to the clothes at all, it’s all so sad looking! That wallpaper doesn’t help either… These kind of clothes do remind me of some of the outfits that my seventies dolls wear (I collect dolls). And I think it was in fashion somewhere in the eighties too, or am I mistaken?

    • Little girls in pinafores (to protect the dress underneath) have been the normal look for centuries. Think of Alice in Wonderland and Laura Ingalls Wilder, and probably some American Girl dolls (I’ve only heard of them. ) My beloved Raggedy Ann doll wore a pinafore, too.

  9. That’s strange–I’m familiar with that company from spending time in Sweden and in general the clothes are so bright that you practically have to wear sunglasses in the store.

  10. Jewel Nelson

    ARGHH! Me too. Too scary–some things in the past should stay there.

  11. An interesting advertising choice, given their hot pink and apple green summer season. I saw the (traveling?) Gudrun Sjoden exhibit at the Nordic Heritage Museum here in Seattle a few weeks ago, and it was very much a pop up shop style of exhibit (created by the company, not the museum).
    They really turned the filter on for this photo, which doesn’t reflect current catalog offerings in hue or theme. I wonder what that marketing meeting was like.

    (fun fact: the exhibit preceding the GS at the Nordic was about Jacob Riis’ How The Other Half Lives, his documentary photography of the very era of sweatshops and grinding poverty this ad evokes. I’m guessing coincidence)

    My big gripe with GS this fall is their branding of their line Ballet Russe, which anyone with half a brain could tell you looks NOTHING like their clothes.

    I think Gudrun has lost the thread.

  12. anna

    I see a pinafore dress and a Fair Isle type cardigan. I don’t understand why suddenly sludgy colours are fashionable. Surely in winter we need something bright and cheerful? Particularly this year! But over the last few years here in Spain even in spring everything was beige (which to me is a non-colour anyway) and dull brown like the pinafore. However, as Oscar Wilde said, “Fashion is that manner of dress so ugly that it must be changed twice a year” so maybe soon they’ll get over it.

  13. Well, that made me laugh.

    All the progressive fashion in Europe has been huge shapeless sacks in either minimalist colours or very bright, very fashionable ones for years. I get what’s appealing about it, and sometimes the construction is so interesting, but if I don’t get some clothes with a waist soon I will do something desperate. I thought that O-line was going to go out years ago but it’s still here and actually just getting more and more extreme (maybe that means it will end soon?).

  14. Judging Gudrun Sjoden’s currently available collection on the basis of one slick advertisment, are we? Go to her webshop and you’ll see there’s still lots of color, along with the blacks, greys and creams that she’s always included as well. Personally, I find the actual designs of this collection quite a bit more interesting than some of the recent past. It may be that they appeal to the same part of me that that adores historical fashion of the 1910s/20s/30s, and is drawn to peasant-y looks in general (which are Sjoden’s actual inspiration for the looks in the ad in question, not the workhouse…)

    • No, I said nothing about the entire collection because it was this specific ad that seemed an odd choice. I was surprised by the editorial turn taken for this ad. I do look at this company’s full color ads in the magazine. Of all the variations on these items that were available, somebody chose to evoke the workhouse look, complete with chopped
      – off hair on the younger girl. We are living through very depressing times, indeed, if anyone is fantasizing about a return to Victorian poverty.

  15. gelasticjew

    When I think about the ad (only the ad), I think: hmm, that looks like the colors they can actually grow cotton in. Or maybe the colors people falsely believe were all you can get with plant dyes.

  16. Betty Hauck

    Since designer clothing is designed and photographed a year or so in advance of the catalogue there was likely no knowledge of the coming pandemic. That particular collection was an homage to the waif-like Edith Piaf in the context of the first half of 20th century Paris. There was also a link to the more opulent folk styles of Russia in that collection. The drab browns are not my cup of tea but I lot of women liked these styles.

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