The recent British film Made in Dagenham, set in 1968, tells the story of a group of female machinists working for the Ford Motor Company and their historic fight for equal pay. In it there’s a delightful exchange over a Biba dress between characters Rita O’Grady, who leads the machinists, and a wonderfully fiery Barbara Castle, a minister in Harold Wilson’s Labour cabinet. Some might argue this exchange trivialises an important issue, but to those I say this: fashion can and often does go hand in hand with feminism. The ability to be girly and as hard as nails – or whatever the hell we want! – is what feminist struggles have been all about.
To those of you unconvinced about the transformative power of fashion (yes I did say that!) I urge you to get down to Brighton and Hove Museum sharpish. Their exhibition, Biba and Beyond: Barbara Hulanicki, pays tribute to the darling 1960s fashion brand Biba which changed the lives of millions of women and enjoyed a following from celebrities including Brigitte Bardot, Cher and Yoko Ono. Including loans from private individuals and major collectors, the Biba story is told in the form of film, illustration, music, photography, and through the fond memories of people reminiscing about the shops, the clothes and the excitement. If you like your fashion and your history, you will be like a veritable child in a sweet shop.
The exhibition, Biba and Beyond: Barbara Hulanicki, will run until 14 April 2013 at Brighton and Hove Museum and Art Gallery. The cost is £6 per adult, with £4 concessions, and is £3 to Brighton and Hove residents. It is free to children under the age of 16. To book tickets call 03000 290902.