5 Minutes with Rosie Harte (aka Tiktok’s Favourite Fashion Historian)
There are various sides to the short form video platform Tiktok. From viral dances, to fashion tips, to comedy, everyone has a place on this platform. But one sub-genre which has recently been gaining quite a lot of popularity within the app is art history. There are a number of creators who tackle this subject and always make sure that accuracy and quality is a priority. When it comes to fashion history, one creator stands out: Rosie Harte (aka @TheRoyalWardrobe). Specialising in – you guessed it – fashion of long, gone royals, Rosie has garnered hundreds of thousands of followers discussing the many facts of all types of fashion history. We talked with Rosie to find out just how @TheRoyalWardrobe got started.
Amelia’s Bloomers: How did you get started in the subject of art and fashion history?
Rosie Harte: I came into the world of art and fashion history in a bit of a roundabout way. In 2019 I was part of a theatre company at the Bristol Old Vic theatre, and as part of our work I was involved in working with the heritage team at the theatre to create performances based on the building's history. The Old Vic is the oldest working theatre in the UK with a very colourful history that I became very passionate about, and decided that I wanted to really dig deep and focus on a career in the heritage industry. I gravitated towards fashion history as I found that it was the thing that helped me to really understand the figures I was researching. Deciding what to wear each day is something that everyone in history has done regardless of class or identity, and it was this that helped me bridge a gap between myself and people of the past, no matter how foreign their lives seem to me.
Deciding what to wear each day is something that everyone in history has done regardless of class or identity, and it was this that helped me bridge a gap between myself and people of the past, no matter how foreign their lives seem to me.
AB: What inspired you to start @TheRoyalWardrobe on Tiktok?
RH: It was a combination of a few things really. Having worked with a heritage team in a theatre that naturally had a very creative ethos, I already had experience and a mindset that history can be taught in any medium given the right mindset. The catalyst, I suppose, was the toppling of the Colston statue in Bristol last summer. When the Black Lives Matter conversation began to grow louder and the statue of notorious slave-trader Edward Colston was toppled in Bristol I wasn't surprised, as someone born and raised in that city I was very aware of the history and dislike of the statue. I was however, very surprised by the amount of misinformation about who Colston was that was spread over the news and social media in the following days. In a spur of the moment decision I propped my phone up on some books and filmed a video on the topic, it did quite well and gave people some much needed clarity on the situation. I realised then that TikTok could be an extension of what I was already doing at the Old Vic, and through a process of trial and error I found a way to bring my personal interest in fashion history to the platform!
AB: Do you do Tiktok full time? How do you balance it with the everyday?
RH: Currently I am working towards my BA in art history, and this does take up quite a bit of my time and energy! That being said, I've never felt that my TikTok hinders my studies or vice versa, if anything I feel as though creating content has improved the quality of my work. The things I research for my degree often overlap with the content I post on my account, and having to think about how I can make that research accessible and succinct without sacrificing any of the quality of information for a 1-2 minute long video has been extremely helpful in developing an academic voice. It's also a skill that's become increasingly more sought after in the heritage industry, as with the pandemic and cuts to funding it's more important than ever that we share our knowledge with the wider public and help people from all walks of life to realise that history is relevant to them, and most importantly that it's interesting!
AB: Do you have a favourite time period in regards to fashion? If so, why?
RH: I really had to think about this one! I suppose I really enjoy fashion in the Tudor court, mainly because of the amount of discussion and debate it inspires. Because it was so long ago, and there are virtually no extant pieces the research into possible construction methods, textiles, and symbolic meanings is constantly evolving and it feels like I'm constantly discovering new takes. I don't talk about it as much on my platform but I'm also very interested in the clothes of sex workers throughout history. It's quite a rogue topic, but I find the social codes developed by these men and women to be so fascinating, particulalry in the 19th century and it's fascinating how much of an impact they had on the clothing of wider society. Unfortunately I don't think I'll be able to bring this to TikTok, as the algorithm is a sensitive thing that takes no prisoners. I'd be banned from the app within a week!
AB: I saw that you and a few other historians on Tiktok were able to explore the V&A by yourselves after hours. Could you tell us a bit on how that came about and maybe what type of content viewers should be expecting?
RH: As museums make the jump to TikTok it's been pretty ruthless to watch. The platform lends itself to authenticity and human connection, and when a museum doesn't quite understand what the site is like as a whole they can seriously struggle. Institutions like the MET, the National Gallery, and the V&A have struggled to tap into the size of target audience that they have over on facebook or instagram, and that's not because the audience isn't there. Just look at myself and the other creators who make similar content! I think we're now being seen as a very useful asset for these museums, as we've done a lot of the hard work for them. We've done the trials and errors to know how the people on TikTok want to learn, and now we can give that information to museums and galleries. With TikTok being such a social app that relies on immediately grabbing the viewer's attention, using a creator who already has a platform to introduce your institution can be extremely helpful, as there's already that bond and trust between us and our viewers.
The V&A gave us a lot of free rein as to what content we wanted to create, and a lot of what we made was silly comedic stuff! My approach was very similar to my usual videos, starting with an object as a springboard for discussing a movement or story. I found four pieces of royal history in the museum that I've put together into three videos that should be out over the next couple of days, including a pair of chopines, the most fantastic set of peridot jewels, and a lover's eye miniature. I really can't wait for people to see them.