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V&A/RCA History of Design (MA)

Molly Gisbourne

Molly is a fashion journalist (First class BA (Hons) Fashion Journalism at the University for the Creative Arts, 2018) and a design historian (MA History of Design at the RCA/ V&A Museum, 2023) who is fascinated with people and with communication. Driving her practice are the questions: how is design used to communicate the self/communities and what does this tell us about the zeitgeist? How can history and the arts best be disseminated and enjoyed in a way that is accessible and welcoming for everyone?

Molly’s practice is best described when split in two, editorial and creative work adjacent yet interdependent on an academic, design history practice. Molly has created, led, and contributed to editorial projects that place history or the arts at the centre. Molly created and led Old Home Zine, an Instagram-based project that aimed to provide accessible yet rigorous content around heritage for a youthful demographic that is usually overlooked from heritage debates. She devised and completed a copywriting project with Lincoln’s Inn, and is co-leading and designing the graduating cohort’s publication, Inbetween.

As previously noted, Molly’s design history work centres communication. Her focused study of the Queen Elizabeth Virginal in the V&A’s collection explored the global influences on design in the sixteenth century; and the aesthetics of communities are observed and analysed in her dissertation ‘Farmer Fashion and the Posh Boy Aesthetic’. After classes delivered by Abbas Zahedi and Cem (@freeze_magazine) on memes as a form of criticism and communication, Molly was inspired to explore the trend for stylised infographics on Instagram during social, cultural, and politically traumatic events in 2020. Her interest in digital media and design as communication was directed to TikTok in her dissertation.

Through all, Molly enjoys a creative and interdisciplinary practice. She is considering a future with a menswear-focused PhD, an editorial career, or a career in fundraising and development. But for now, for the summer after graduation, she is working as a tour guide at Kensington Palace (Historic Royal Palaces) for their fashion exhibition ‘Crown to Couture’, researching, talking, and engaging with menswear history and a wide variety of curious visitors.


Through my training as a fashion journalist, I was disappointed by the lack of representation of my peers in the Cotswolds, where I grew up, and I enjoyed teaching my city classmates, and my international friends about the style quirks of the farmers. So, I took it upon myself to describe and analyse what I termed ‘farmer fashion’ – the distinct dress choices of those who live and work and identify with the land. A few years passed and I thought less about farmer fashion, until TikTok’s obsession with the suffix ‘-core’ to describe ultra-specific ‘aesthetics’ started to deliver the ‘posh boy aesthetic’ to my For You Page (the algorithm’s disturbing, unprompted accuracy strikes again). And there was farmer fashion: ironically (yet decisively unironically) displayed on the bodies of trust fund boys. It seemed confusing to me that young men with comfortable wealth are choosing to wear clothing that I saw as provincial, archaic, nationalistic. This dissertation combines fashion theory, archive work, and an ethnography practice to uncover the (typically design history) design, production, and consumption of this same style worn by two different demographics.

The first chapter focuses on design and gives a historiographical and historical context to farm workwear. Similarly, I investigate the other demographic using a timeline approach. I trace countrywear as a distinct and separate style for historical ‘posh boys’ back to the sixteenth century, and focus on the materiality of the style through specific design elements, fabrics, and brands. This leads to a discussion of shooting uniform and the extent to which the countrywear style can be considered a uniform. The uniform/subculture/anti-fashion labels hover around this aesthetic, and I devote argument to each as labelling this style will give a better understanding of how the demographics interact within wider culture. As a uniform, countrywear allows wearers to (boast?) present their crucially-English pastoral connections to observers. In this chapter I take a descriptive, participant-observation trip to Cheltenham Races to explore what elements make up the modern-day countrywear style. I find specific styling cues (such as layering), and specific materials, garments, and brands that are used universally (across both demographics) to create the look.  

Chapter Two, 'Producing a Patriotic Subculture', is misleading; I refer to the production of the style in terms of its perpetuation, its unchanged aesthetic codes over centuries – what has enabled the countrywear style to last for so long?Partly, this is due to countrywear having been used as shorthand for ‘Englishness’ in media and fashion. I take care, yet am rigorous with, a discussion of what Englishness/ Britishness is and what it might mean to the young men wearing this style. I use Alison Goodrum’s work to back up and grow my arguments within the specific demographics of my study, and analyse how brands, such as Hackett, commodify and capitalise off a connection to the countryside and typical Englishness. The 1990s’ Anglomania is referenced for exporting Englishness abroad. A more targeted analysis of agency and who ‘is allowed’ to wear this style is situated in Chapter Three within its general focus of countrywear as displaying power. Back to this chapter however, and I am sat in the pub. I am sat in what used to be a favourite haunt of the Sloane Rangers, on the hunt for present-day iterations of the subculture. Sloane Rangers, a term coined by Ann Barr and Peter York in The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook (1982) were a group of young people of a certain class living around Sloane Square, London in the 1980s. They were sartorially characterised as separate from the stereotypical trends of the Eighties, and were epitomised by the late Diana, Princess of Wales. This celebrity media coverage and success of the handbook popularised the countrywear style, and grew its associations to the pastoral, patriotism, to power. I flip this subculture discussion to modern-day media, to the communication and language of TikTok. Examples of TikToks by different creators (farmer- and posh boy- identifying) highlight the specificity and gatekeeping of the countrywear style.

Moving into consumption and Chapter Three approaches the topic literally and semiotically: firstly, I visit countrywear stores in the Cotswolds and in London to analyse their similarities and differences, and I consider other ways of buying such as at events (large industry events like the Three Counties Show, and local events for example a point-to-point) and online. My research led me into a strange rabbit hole, one that I had to buy a monogrammed, leather hip flask for entry: the Chelsea LifeJacket, an Instagram brand run by some of the TikTok creators that I analysed previously that market themselves as a private members club. Tying everything together is the underlying semiotic field that has lapped under the surface of the dissertation; here is where I discuss how this style is ‘read’ and understood by observers. I created my own word association survey and found that participants could not distinguish between photos of countrywear on the different demographics or through different time periods. Participants holistically identified wealth, the land, and Englishness. TikToks are used again to illustrate how creators are perpetuating this idea of themselves in these clothes, and providing guides so that with the right Ralph Lauren polo, you too can live like this! And the ‘old money’, American Ivy, countrywear crossover provides insights to how this style is read universally.

The conclusion invites further work to question those in power. Why are young people still aspiring to a historic, nationalised fashion in this globalised, postmodern world? And how does this impact how we view wealth, rurality, and the aesthetics of the nation?

Farming and Posh Boy collidePosted in May 2020, this TikTok created by user jordantkrigby, a farmer from Wales in his mid-twenties. Many of his comedy videos relate to his farming life, including this example. What makes this TikTok interesting is not only Jordan’s use of his Schöffel and Polo Ralph Lauren shirt to indicate that he’s a posh boy (when the lyrics start, he unzips the Schöffel to conspicuously reveveal the logo on his shirt underneath) but the link between the farmer and the posh boy.
‘Want to achieve that old money aesthetic? Here’s what you’ll need’. This video content contains explicit language. A TikTok from the creator m.iles, a twenty-two year old living in London by means of his finance job and trust fund, daddy’s money. In a following TikTok, labelled as ‘part 2’, he adds to his listicle of old money with: fleet of gun dogs (spaniels), classic car, collection of Ralph Lauren quarter zips, and a signet ring with your family crest.
the logo for old home zine is an upside down oak tree, roots bared
Launch Project



diverse and youthful

This project begins as my Final Major Project for my undergrad, or it didn't, and that's why it's here. The final project for Fashion Journalism students at UCA is to create and produce a magazine - that's the brief. I wanted to create a branded magazine for the National Trust but for a young demographic (16-30). My market research made the idea commercially compelling: heritage was not marketed or produced for this demographic as elderly people, families, and schools were their target. This seemed disappointing to me as I was consuming cottage-core content online and major national events such as Brexit, BLM, and the pandemic had caused the generation to consider and be curious about history and heritage. The pandemic was the direct reason that I could not produce the magazine I had researched: I couldn't leave my flat let alone visit heritage sites around the country. So the idea was shelved.

In the MA, I took Dr Caroline McCaffrey-Howarth's class 'Re-Designing the British Country House, c. 1550 - present day' and I was inspired once more. And this time round I had academic backing and a group of peers who were creative, intelligent, and motivated.

Leading old home zine was uncomfortable for me, I took a democratic and skill-sharing approach to ensure that this was not 'mine'. I am proud of the discussions and Instagram we produced and hope my peers enjoyed the experience. Maybe old home zine will be resurrected in the future, nevertheless it gave us a practical approach to delivering specific histories and discussions, and gave us a creative outlet for a few months.

the logo for Inbetween and some edited images

Alongside Natasha Dodwell-Adams, I am co-leading the cohort's publication, Inbetween.I am also designing the spreads, a couple of which are shown below.

We are printing in July 2023 and at the time of writing, the project is still on-going. So keep your eyes peeled!

Magazine spread showing Alex's work, designed by me
Alex spread
Magazine spread showing the conclusion pages, designed by me
Conclusion spread