A dress made in the image of Marian Richardson

After spending my time researching Marian Richardson, I was struck by her personality. As I read the musty historical documents in the form of letters, notes and photos, a picture of a young and resolute woman unfolded.

Trudy Mills, Button reflecting Marion's love of the ballet, 2017

Trudy Mills, Button reflecting Marion's love of the ballet, 2017

Marian, reflected femininity “yet with a robust aura that captured the hearts of academics and scholars alike". She seemed to have been a popular woman who made friends with ease; there were many letters from acquaintances inviting Marian to visit the theatre or to visit friends for long weekends. Visiting the ballet was among her favourite pastimes, along with drawing and writing. She was a passionate woman with a conviction to take her teaching in to prisons and schools.

I entered on my research with the thought that I wanted to reflect Marian through designing an item of clothing she might have worn, namely a dress.


I set about reading as many letters as I could from friends and colleagues, building up an image before my eyes. I then researched photo evidence of Miss Richardson so I could build up a physical image. One photo struck me and this was a photograph shoot by Vogue to illustrate an article on the reconsideration of academic talent. I was amused by her choose of style for the shoot: Miss Richardson went for an elegant yet individual dress that I feel represented her more as an individual and less as an academic, unlike her fellow academic who went for a more formal attire. This made me wonder about her further as I had started to see her individuality coming through.

At this stage I felt it necessary to unpick a woman who on the surface was a man in a woman’s world. Roles reversed, with both being equally influential. A woman projecting her masculinity yet secretly proud of her womanhood. I became aware I was being niggled by a question: Was Miss Richardson naturally successful or determined to portray her success? I knew I would never find the answer, However, I came to my own conclusion after researching a little deeper in the historical documents. Marion logged her dreams, documenting them in a thin long but small note book and sometimes scribbling them on what seemed to be any scrap of paper, indicating that her life was demanding and rushed. Her dreams seemed disturbed and haunted by unravelling circumstances such as war breaking out on a battle ship and being overwhelmed. Dreams that portrayed ladders that never had a ending seemed to recur frequently, as did one about losing her sister. I wanted to capture this confusion, but felt it would not be a true description of a woman who I came to respect not only as an academic, but as a professional. I found peace of mind thinking it is not how we are defined that defines us; it is being present in circumstances that shapes and defines us.   


Miss Richardson loved the ballet and I imagined she, like every other woman, would have taken the opportunity to have dressed with flair. I've made a dress that reflects what she might have worn to attend the ballet with friends when a light dust of snow had covered the streets on a cold winter's evening.  I've complemented the dress with a 1940s bag and fur coat, something typically worn for an evening at the ballet. Inside the bag you will find theatre glasses, a programme and tickets to the ballet as well as little items that reveal who she is and awaken the mind to an image of her as a teacher and a friend. 

Trudy Mills, Dress for Marion Richardson (final piece), 2017.

Trudy Mills, Dress for Marion Richardson (final piece), 2017.

There was no doubt in my mind that the dress was going to be made to reflect the personality of a women I had built up an image of as a result of my research findings and not one that I wanted her to be or who I felt she was. I desired to represent her as a unique individual and therefore felt the best option was the Vogue photograph as this represented many qualities such as style, individualism, femininity and dignity.