Ribbons, Borders, and Trimmings: Fashionable Garments and Accessories in John Thomson’s China

Rachel Silberstein, Lecturer, History of Art and Visual Culture, Rhode Island School of Design

The changing fashions John Thomson found in mid-nineteenth-century China were, in part, stimulated by the commercialization of garment and accessory production. Commercial and visual records demonstrate that much of this production was of small items – trimmings and accessories like ribbons, appliques, collars, sleeve-bands and purses, and it was these items that changed the silhouette and style of Chinese women’s dress. This lecture brings together extant objects and images to explore the fashion for accessories and trimmings in the Qing dynasty (1644-1911): makers, sellers, and consumers; design sources and patterns; cultural themes and inspirations. These objects present a huge range of designs including auspicious motifs, geometric and abstract designs. This talk focuses on the less studied themes of popular and literati culture, and explores how motifs and designs circulated between popular prints, embroidery patterns, and fashionable dress.

About the Presenter

Rachel Silberstein is a historian of Chinese material culture, with a particular interest in dress, fashion, and textiles. In 2014, she completed a D.Phil in Oriental Studies at the University of Oxford with a dissertation exploring the impact of the commercialization of handicrafts on Chinese women’s dress (Embroidered Figures: Commerce and Culture in the Nineteenth-Century Chinese Fashion System). She also studied Chinese language and linguistics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, and spent two years teaching and studying at Xi’an Foreign Languages University. In 2012, Silberstein was awarded the Gervers Fellowship at the Royal Ontario Museum to study their collection of Chinese vernacular embroideries.

Silberstein has published articles in Late Imperial China (2015), Costume (2016, forthcoming), and Fashion Theory (2016, forthcoming).