With increased leisure time and improved travel networks and facilities, British people began to explore new places at home and abroad during the interwar period. In particular, an increasing number of the upper middle class began to travel abroad. Although there was a growth in aviation, the primary mode of transport was by ship. Air travel remained particularly expensive and did not become popular and affordable until the 1960s with the advent of the ‘jet age.’
After the First World War, the British Empire grew to its largest territorial extent. Britain had acquired control over Germany’s former colonies in Africa and gained territory in the Middle East as the Ottoman Empire disintegrated. Travel through the Empire provided an opportunity to see less familiar cultures within a British colonial context.
Holidays were an opportunity to wear more casual types of clothing and there was also the opportunity for tourists to see dress that operated outside the Western fashion system.
The period’s fashion magazines gave detailed information on what clothing should be taken on holiday, whether at home or abroad. Resort collections were often featured.
Travel films held by Screen Archive South East contain footage of British people abroad and illustrate their interactions with local cultures. The films reveal the national dress of various countries and show the official rituals that were often staged for tourists in order to represent particular ethnic and national identities. The films also provide an insight into what British travellers’ wore in different climates and environments.
The international politics of the period, especially with the rise of fascism, produced a strong sense of national consciousness. Fashion designers used folk and ethnic influences in their designs throughout the period. Fashion has long created styles that draw upon multicultural influences. This can, however, be problematic and risk leaning towards ‘cultural apropriation’ where a cultural references becomes absorbed and ‘colonised’ by another culture. These cultural borrowings therefore often reflect unequal economic and cultural relationships.