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Lorraine Smith

Independent Researcher
London College of Fashion
Person Type
Lorraine  Smith

The history of bras

Alumna Lorraine Smith talks to The Pool about the history of bras


Lorraine came to London College of Fashion to pursue her interest in fashion history and graduated from MA History and Culture of Fashion (now MA Fashion Cultures) in 2015. The course has helped her to forge her own path as an independent researcher. She tells us more about her varied career and studying at LCF.


What have you been working on since finishing your course?

As a mature student who already had a number of financial commitments on starting the course, I found it hard to find a way to change career whilst still paying the bills. This means I have had to forge my own path and, since graduating, I have been using my spare time work as an independent researcher, with a focus on twentieth century underwear and textiles. I have had my research published in the Journal of Dress History and have presented at a number of academic conferences, including the 'Undressed' study weekend at the Victoria and Albert Museum. I have also co-founded an online museum dedicated to the history of underwear called The Underpinnings Museum.

Why did you choose to study at LCF? What attracted you about this university?

I chose LCF because of the college's mission to change lives through fashion.

With so many specialist courses dedicated to particular aspects of the industry, and highly respected Masters courses and academics, I knew it would satisfy my desire to study in a place where I was surrounded by fashion inspiration.

Did you always know you wanted to pursue a career in fashion?

I have always been interested in clothing and fashion, from collecting Sindy and Barbie dolls as a child, through doing an art foundation course and then going to university in Manchester to study textile design. When I finished my first degree in 1997, I didn't really know what to do and so, after several failed attempts to get on a greaduate training scheme in order to become a buyer or a merchandiser, I ended up in a lovely admin job which paid the bills and gave me plenty of time off to pursue side projects. I then forgot all about working in fashion until I started looking at Masters courses in 2012.

Why did you decide to study MA Fashion Cultures?

After years of taking various short courses in different aspects of fashion (including fashion jorunalism, and lingerie making at LCF), I realised that I enjoyed exploring how clothing is made, how we fashion our identities through what we wear, and then writing about it. I hadn't done much academic writing before, but the course page for MA History and Culture of Fashion made it sound like it would be a good fit, so I contacted the course leader to request an informal chat (as I had been out of higher education for a while), before submitting an application.

What did you enjoy most about your course?

I enjoyed being around other students from a variety of different backgrounds, who were all interested in different aspects of fashion and engaged in lively discussions in our sessions.

I loved being able to speak to academics I admired and whose books I had read; attending talks and panel discussions that fed into my research and inspired new areas of investigation; and getting to use the excellent LCF archives.

What topic did you explore for your final project?

After writing four essays on lingerie and one on the history of swimwear, which reignited a passion for fabric and fibre technology that started in my undergraduate days, I decided that I needed to choose a research topic for my Master's dissertation which somehow combined the two. I had visited an archive as part of the research process for one of my essays, and discovered that they had a huge collection of bras that was often overlooked by researchers who were usually only there for the corsetry. The title of my dissertation was From Kestos to Ultrabra: Technological Changes to the Bra in the UK, 1930-1994, as I hugely enjoyed researching it using archival resources and by starting my own collection, which I have since donated to the LCF archives.

For you, what's the best thing about your profession?

For a number of years I was frustrated that I couldn't afford to take a pay cut to work in a museum, or to do another MA (in order to work as an archivist) or a PhD. However, in 2018 I wrote an article for The Fashion Studies Journal about my journey since graduation which helped me realise that finding my own path was 100% the best thing for me. This means I get to go to conferences, share research, and work on exciting projects that I enjoy without having to start at the bottom of a traditional career ladder.

What are your plans for the next few years? 

Having done lots of research on underwear, including the history of the bra, I'd really like to write a book. However, I have been saying this for a number of years now so I think I need to stop talking and start writing!

What advice would you give to potential students who would like to enrol on this course?

Always stay curious, jot down notes and references as you go, and never put off starting wrting an essay!