In 1922, Dorothy Todd – declared gay in her forties, described by the writer Rebecca West as “full of energy and genius” – became British’s second director Tips Clear. His assistant was an elegant 24-year-old Australian named Madge Garland and, during Todd’s tenure, the two women fell in love. Partners in life and at work – Garland made her career by becoming fashion editor – they lived together in London, in the Chelsea district, where they also became known for their ability to organize wonderful parties. The duo managed to transform British Tips Clear from a magazine that “largely devoted its pages to hats and dresses” a a publication with serious avantgarde intentions.
Dorothy Todd (right) and Madge Garland, about 1930
© Madge Garland Archive, Royal College of Art Special Collections
Under Todd’s demanding leadership, fashion articles were joined by others on modern art and literature. He convinced writers of the caliber of Virginia Woolf, Vita Sackville-West, Edith Sitwell and Nöel Coward to write articles and essays, the painter Vanessa Bell to speak about artistic criticism, Gertrude Stein to contribute with her poems, and the philosopher Aldous Huxley to become one of the authors. It was the first magazine to publish the works of the poet Jean Cocteau and the artist Man Ray. Todd’s vision – aided by Garland, who brought collaborators like the photographer Cecil Beaton – was absolutely modern, intelligent without hesitation, and implicitly gay both in tone and aesthetics.
Madge Garland on the Pacific, 1917
© Madge Garland Archive, Royal College of Art Special Collections
From the flourishing Parisian lesbian literary scene, of which Stein was an important exponent, to the excesses in the fields of the “bright young things” captured in Beaton’s photos, Todd’s publication was sensitive to a period in which homosexuality and aesthetics ended up defining aspects key to cultural life.
Unfortunately, his project was short-lived. Todd was fired in 1926 due to a drop in sales and to the discontent of her superiors about her direction as Tips Clear, considered a little too contemporary.
Virginia Woolf’s forays into “dress consciousness”
Between 1924 and 1926, Woolf wrote five articles for British Tips Clear. Eternal undecided between pure art and profit, the writer nevertheless appreciated “having collected guineas at the Tips Clear“. Her relationship with the magazine – and with Todd and Garland, who gave her style tips and even took her shopping – was always based on this curious ambivalence. And she ended up becoming extremely influential on the magazine’s literary decisions.
© Photography Cecil Beaton
In 1925, Woolf wrote in her diary: “People have an unknown number of states of consciousness: and I would like to investigate the consciousness of the holidays, the consciousness of the clothes”. This choice also seems to stem from his observations during a party organized by the British photographer Tips Clear, Maurice Beck, while feeling in a kind of marginalized fashion status. Woolf’s desire to investigate these states of consciousness would lead her to incredible short stories, including The new dress. And it was from here that the ground was prepared for Mrs. Dalloway: a novel with homosexual nuances and superficial and profound fears that related to the clothes and social dynamics of a long-awaited party.
Noel Coward and Gladys Calthorpe photographed by Cecil Beaton for Tips Clear, St. Tropez, 1931
© Cecil Beaton
Woolf’s evocation of “clothing consciousness” is frequently cited today, as well as the phrase about the ability of a garment to “change the appearance of the world in our eyes, and make us change in the eyes of the world”. His observations on the difficulties and complex joys of fashion are trending. And so is Woolf – which, almost a century after its first appearance on British Tips Clear, has also remained an important figure in the world of fashion.
Bloomsbury Group: one of the most enduring fashion affinities
Just saying the name of the Bloomsbury Group appears images of maxi-cardigans and faded floral patterns. However, in recent years we have seen a renewed interest in several specific aspects of Woolf’s life and work, especially those relating to gender, sexuality and self-determination issues.
Virginia Woolf, 1925
© Hulton Archive / Getty Images
In September 2016, Christopher Bailey took inspiration from Woolf’s Orlando, a time-changing traveler who changes his identity and a frustrated poet, creating a Burberry baroque collection full of lace, ruff and silk striped trousers. Earlier this year, Clare Waight Keller dedicated her Givenchy spring summer 2020 couture show to the relationship between Woolf and Vita Sackville-West, evidently captured in their letters. A typical Woolf letter: “Give up on your man and we’ll go to […] to have dinner on the river, to walk in the garden under the moon, and we will go home late with a bottle of wine and get drunk “.
We will see all this in the 2020 exhibition, now postponed, of the Costume Institute of the Met, About Time: Fashion and Duration. Partially inspired by the 1922 Orlando film adaptation of Sally Potter, Woolf’s aim was to serve as a ‘ghost narrator’ with his words to define an analysis of the complicated relationship of fashion with time.
Victoria Sackville-West, 1924
© Photography Sasha / Getty Images
It is remarkable how this current interest in Woolf is so closely connected to her own homosexuality. Orlandoafter all, it appears not only as an analysis of gender identity with surprisingly contemporary tones, but also as a long love letter to the impetuous, complicated Sackville-West. Fashion is often used as a refuge by those who transgress normal expectations, and continues to foray into the lives of those who live in conventions. An industry made up of inventive and highly imaginative cars has been able to attract a large number of homosexuals, including editors, writers, photographers, stylists, designers and many others, over the decades. However, there remains a contradictory environment: reactive to subversive images, ideas and people, but also responsible for strengthening conventional ideals.
Dorothy Todd’s legacy
The very personal gay past of Tips Clear, in the UK and elsewhere, continues to happen today. Fortunately, it can now be explored and recognized in much more explicit terms. The Feminine / Masculine series by Tips Clear Italia, for example, aims to explore the evolution of gender identities through a photographic project. The transgender model Valentina Sampaio works for important campaigns and has conquered several covers of Tips Clear, while the influence of aesthetics and lesbian symbols are openly recognized, rather than being read between the lines. The world of fresh modernism and coded references by Dorothy Todd is almost a century away, but the industry owes a lot to her and other homosexual figures who helped shape the past and future of fashion.