Gus Casely-Hayford unpicks the hidden histories behind what we wear by exploring ten key moments in fashion spanning the globe and five centuries.
It's 1985. Nike is hoping to finally get a foot into the world of basketball. They're gearing up for a new release of basketball boots that 21-year-old rookie Michael Jordan wears during a pre-season match for the Chicago Bulls. The National Basketball Association then tries to ban the trainers on the basis that they break the league’s rule stipulating that players must wear shoes that are either 51% black or 51% white.
In the tenth episode of Torn, Gus Casely-Hayford tells the story of how Nike’s response kickstarts a revolution in trainers that turns a simple sports shoe into one of the most covetable fashion items of all time. Jordan saw his sponsorship deal with Nike morph into a multi-billion-dollar business making him the richest athlete of all time.
Casely-Hayford finds that from the early noughties, the lines between fashion and sportswear blurred further. Enter some of the world's most renowned fashion designers. Designer Air Jordans regularly adorn the feet of celebrities
30/08/2022 • 15 minutes 14 seconds
In 1920, during a record-breaking test flight in a single-engine fighter plane, things almost went fatally wrong for the pilot Major Rudolph 'Shorty' Schroeder. He lost consciousness but came round just in time to land at McCook Airport in Ohio State. When his colleague Lieutenant John MacReady pulled him out of the cockpit, he was shocked to see that Major Schroeder’s eyeballs had frozen. It was the catalyst that led Lieutenant MacReady to embark on a mission to help design protective eyewear for military pilots that resulted in Ray-Ban Aviator sunglasses.
In the ninth episode of Torn Gus Casely-Hayford charts the history of Ray-Ban sunglasses, and explores how a piece of protective equipment designed for pilots, evolved to become an iconic fashion item worn by presidents, actors and rock stars looking for a dose of classic cool whilst shielding their emotions or their hangovers from paparazzi and the public. Casely-Hayford finds that Ray-Ban owe their success to embedding themselves
29/08/2022 • 15 minutes 5 seconds
It's 1965 and London is about to become the capital of cool.
Designer Mary Quant is watching the fashionable girls of Chelsea go by from the window of her shop, Bazaar. Their hemlines seem to be getting shorter and shorter. Inspired, Mary gets to work and what she comes up with many will find deeply shocking. It’s the miniskirt.
In episode eight of Torn, Gus Casely-Hayford finds that media, society and feminists can never agree on whether the miniskirt is a good thing. Fashion historian Valerie Steele draws parallels with the 1920s when feminist disagreed over whether the knee-length flapper skirt was frivolous, or favourable to feminism.
Gus discovers that when Mary Quant popularised the miniskirt in the 1960s, no matter what the papers or parents had to say about them, girls and young women were desperate to get their hands on one. Eve Shrewsbury was one of them, and she shocked the older generation in her village in rural Northamptonshire by wearing a miniskirt. Fast forward t
29/08/2022 • 15 minutes 32 seconds
Fisherman sweaters have been part of fishing communities around the world for centuries. They're knitted with wool, often with unique and intricate designs, and can take more than a hundred hours to make.
In episode seven of Torn, Gus Casely-Hayford sets out to discover if it's possible for traditional clothing to live on in a world where machines manufacture clothing at record speeds and record low prices.
The story begins in the early 1900s off the Isle of Lewis in the Scottish Hebrides with two fishermen clad in traditional woollen sweaters known there as ganseys, and continues in the present day with their descendant Alice Starmore who is the only person to have documented local knitting patterns in a published book.
Gus discovers that the tradition has come under the spotlight over the decades thanks to celebrity pizzazz. In 1950, the fashion magazine Vogue photographed Grace Kelly sailing, decked out in a cream cabled Irish fisherman sweater. Recently, Adam Driver wore a chu
29/08/2022 • 14 minutes 8 seconds
It's 1848 and a London-based company is changing the way that clothes are made and sold. E Moses and Son operate out of striking buildings across the capital. Men from all points of the compass are converging on the store with one thing in mind. They want a suit.
In episode six of Torn, Gus Casely-Hayford finds that quick returns, division of labour, economies of scale and thoughtful innovative investment in advertising are among what will shape the history and present of low cost fashion.
While there is no evidence that E Moses and Son used sweated labour, their innovation led to plenty of their competitors to do so, particularly sweated women. Gus explores how the advent of sweatshops in the 1860s gave rise to exploitation in the garment industry. From the British city of Leicester that saw higher than average infection rates during COVID, to the capital of Bangladesh, Dhaka where over 1000 workers died in a building collapse in 2014, the legacy of exploitation continues to the
29/08/2022 • 14 minutes 16 seconds
It's 1924 and the young Russian graduate Alexis Sommaripa, like so many migrants to the United States in the period, is looking for something new. He takes a job with a company that’s been in the viscose rayon business for about five years but wants to figure out how to sell it. He finds out that women want it to be less shiny and more soft.
In episode five of Torn, Gus Casely-Hayford follows the astronomical rise of Sommaripa - from fleeing the Bolsheviks during Russia’s revolution to becoming a key player in the production of viscose rayon, a fabric that is widely used in fashion today as an affordable alternative to silk.
Gus finds that, although viscose rayon has democratised fashion, it has done so at a significant cost to the environment.
Viscose rayon is made by processing wood pulp with chemicals. This turns it into a viscous liquid, and then into threads. More than 200 million trees are logged every year and turned into cellulosic fabric, such as viscose rayon, according t
22/08/2022 • 14 minutes 19 seconds
It’s 1856 in London, and 18-year-old William Perkin is in the search for a cure to malaria when he stumbles upon something else. At the bottom of his test tube he sees a reddish lump. He dips cloth into it and discovers a purple dye. He becomes the first person to successfully market synthetic dyes.
Gus Casely-Hayford tells the story of the craze that follows, nicknamed “mauve mania”. It starts with a purple dress worn by Queen Victoria and filters down to the masses who, until this point, did not have access to rich coloured dyes. Before Perkin’s discovery led to an explosion of synthetic dyes, clothes were coloured with berries, with tree bark, ground up insects and other natural ingredients. These colours didn't bind well to the cloth and would often fade quickly.
The legacy of the synthetic dyes is that textile dyeing and finishing mills use about 200 tonnes of water for every one tonne of textiles produced. These dyes and their mix of pollutants are difficult to remove from th
22/08/2022 • 14 minutes
The story of wax print fabric begins not in Africa where the fabric is adored today, but on the island of Java in Indonesia. That’s because, in the 18th century, a Dutch entrepreneur Pieter Fentener van Vlissingen received a curious piece of cloth from his uncle who lived on Java. It had been dyed by a Javanese artisan using a nibbed bamboo stick to create imperfect lines and dots that are set to the fabric with beeswax. Pieter sets about mechanising the technique and finds buyers in West and Central Africa.
In the third episode of Torn, Gus Casely-Hayford sets out to find out if wax print fabric can really be considered African if the original design comes from Asia and the manufacturing process is the result of European industrialisation. He asks those who wear wax print in West and Central Africa what it means to them that their most recognisable fabric is a product of colonialism.
From the Togolese businesswomen who set up workshops and imported printing machines to supply the r
22/08/2022 • 14 minutes 29 seconds
Indian chintz dress
It's 1786 in Alexandria, Virginia. An argument breaks out at the market between a black woman enslaved on George Washington’s plantation and a white woman who believes she has stolen her dress made of fine Indian chintz fabric. What the encounter reveals is a complex pattern of hierarchy within fashion and stylistic expression in which black Americans have struggled to gain recognition for centuries.
In the second episode of Torn, Gus-Casely-Hayford explores letters and extracts from the diaries of George Washington to understand the interwoven histories of both slavery and textiles in America.
By the late 18th century, chintz patterns copied from a centuries old Indian tradition were firmly established as a signifier of high rank within white society. Guy goes in search of black Americans designers who have dared to express themselves in the predominantly white world of fashion. From the enslaved seamstress Elizabeth Keckly who bought her freedom with proceeds from her dress shop s
22/08/2022 • 15 minutes 24 seconds
Gus Casely-Hayford tells the story of how calico cotton first grown in India gave rise to the global trade of a fabric that is both contentious and revolutionary.
It’s 1719 and the vitriolic words of weaver-turned-activist Claudius Rey penned in his book condemning the “evil” import of cheap calico cotton from British-ruled India help pour fuel on the fire of civil unrest.
The British parliament responds by introducing various amendments to the Calico Act aimed at protecting owners and workers in Britain’s textile industry. This has the knock on effect of crippling India’s weavers by preventing them from exporting processed cotton. While Britain’s workshops flourished from weaving calico cotton from India, the immoral game changer was an influx of raw cotton from plantations in the British colonies in the Caribbean and the southern states of America worked by enslaved people.
The globalisation of fashion has its roots in colonisation and the industrial revolution it spurred. Think
22/08/2022 • 14 minutes 56 seconds
Gus Casely-Hayford unpicks the hidden histories behind what we wear by exploring 10 key moments in fashion spanning the globe and five centuries.
From the start of the global trade in cotton, to the accidental invention of artificial dyes to Nike Air Jordans, Casely-Hayford reveals the historical weight we carry through our clothes and the statements we make just by getting dressed in the morning.
A Novel production for BBC Radio 4.