Human beings have been wearing clothes since the beginning (or shortly thereafter). Yet fashion has changed drastically over the past few hundred years and so have the ways we produce it. Machines have replaced hand-sewing, and factories have replaced home-spun textiles.
While innovations in fashion have in many ways made life easier—think washing machines, Velcro, and buying off-the-rack—they have also obscured some of the wisdom of the past. Many of us (myself included!) no longer know how to repair our own clothes, repurpose old fabric, or tailor a garment to fit properly. What can the history of fashion teach us about our wardrobes today? How can we put a contemporary twist on age-old traditions of versatility and value?
Fortunately, you don’t need a history degree to ask (and begin to answer) these questions. Whether you are looking to learn more about the secrets of sewing from the past, to decode the meaning of historical fashion in film, or to incorporate some vintage fashion into your own look, YouTube is a great place to start. I recommend the following channels to get you started.
Bernadette Banner: My gateway drug into historical fashion YouTube. I first encountered Bernadette when I found her video detailing her experience of when a fast fashion producer stole images of her in her hand-sewn medieval gown and sold a knock-off. Bernadette’s channel is full of in-depth tutorials for her meticulously researched, largely Edwardian and Victorian-inspired garments. She’s a great coach for learning how to research the history of fashion for yourself. Between her picturesque New York flat and her adorable guinea pig, Cesario, her channel is as #aesthetic as it is educational.
Cathy Hay: Bernadette’s channel brought me to Cathy, specifically her work recreating the famous Peacock Dress. (If you have not yet encountered the Peacock Dress, you are in for a treat. It’s an absolute marvel, and Cathy has an entire series on her journey to make it happen again.) She is so incredibly knowledgeable about the history of fashion and full of strength and positivity. Consider her your personal trainer for all your crafting and sewing needs.
Micarah Tewers: Micarah’s channel features some historical content (like this excellent video on the costumes of Little Women) but mainly features thrifty DIY tutorials that inevitably devolve into quirky tangents and unrelated commentary. She’s funny and smart and maybe a little impulsive (see 11:40 of this video to see what I mean). Although her channel is not primarily a historical one, her relentless positivity and pure, unadulterated enthusiasm will help you to overcome your fears about trying something new (like sewing!) and give it the old college try.
Raissa Bretaña: Glamour magazine has compiled some of the best historical fashion YouTubers to fact check the historical accuracy of the wardrobes of your favorite movies and shows, from Beauty and the Beast to Stranger Things. Their usual host is Raissa Bretaña, a New York-based fashion historian with some serious academic credentials. Bretaña takes an interdisciplinary approach to her subjects and does a great job putting clothes in conversation with their broader cultural and historical context. She also has a superb sense of personal style, which comes across in all of her videos!
Rachel Maksy: Rachel is an excellent follow if you are looking to incorporate some vintage-inspired fashion into your wardrobe, especially on a budget. In addition to sewing her own costumes and clothes (her Pride and Prejudice dress is a personal favorite), Rachel’s channel features lots of shopping haul videos on how to get a vintage-inspired look without dropping hundreds of dollars on authentic (and likely delicate) garments. Oh, and she has hair tutorials too! Her focus tends to be on how to get an overall vintage look on a budget, and her channel will give you lots of fashion inspiration and Hobbit vibes.