Ms Hilary Davidson

Hilary Davidson

Dress and Textile Historian and Curator
Honorary Associate, Medieval and Early Modern Centre

MA (Southampton)
Twitter: @FourRedShoes

Hilary Davidson is a dress and textile historian specialising in early modern and medieval clothing cultures. After many years working in England, including being curator of fashion and decorative arts at the Museum of London, she is currently based in her native Sydney where she continues to lecture, teach and publish in her field. Hilary is an Honorary Associate at MEMC, a doctoral student at La Trobe, Melbourne, teaches dress history in Sydney, London and Cambridge, and is completing a major book on Regency clothing for Yale University Press.

Hilary trained as a bespoke shoemaker and has sewn for over thirty years. She brings a high level of technical expertise in material culture to the study of dress history, complementing her extensive theoretical knowledge of how and why people wear clothes, and what it means when they do. Using reconstructions of historical dress, and studying objects in depth has led to her ongoing appreciation of the role of body knowledges in understanding dress.

For full details of teaching, publications, talks, media and professional experience, please download Hilary Davidson's full CV.

Research Interests

Hilary has an unusually broad range of research interests within dress history, engaging with the field through historical research, curating, archaeology, and practice-based investigation. Her work is necessarily interdisciplinary, and she welcomes the challenges and insights that brings.

Hilary’s main focus is European dress cultures pre-1850, including medieval clothing and textiles, particularly in relation to material transmissions of skill and style across cultures (including Islamic to Christian Europe); and sixteenth century dress, especially of Golden Age Spain. Age of transition and transmission are of particular interest, such as the early years of the 20th century, or the British Regency period.

Her ground-breaking research into Jane Austen’s pelisse coat has led to a three-year research project into clothing practices in the global long Regency (1795-1820s), resulting in a book (Yale University Press, 2018), as well as various smaller outputs. The book will be the first major scholarly volume focussed on Regency dress, and incorporates extensive evidence from material culture as well as archival sources.

Archaeological textiles and dress are a vital source for investigating non-documentary clothing history, and Hilary’s work has increasingly involved this area, from the burial textiles of nineteenth-century working class Londoners, to 16th century knitted caps (in association with Dr. Jane Malcolm Davies, Marie Skłodowska Curie Fellow at the Centre for Textile Research, University of Copenhagen), and Latvian dress in the middle ages (producing the first English-language article on the subject).

The discipline of archaeology has long established experimental archaeology as a methodology for creating embodied cognition about a subject through reconstruction. Hilary also uses remaking as a way of investigating dress history, and studies the role of body knowledges and hand-skills in creating and interpreting clothing. Examining absences in textiles, what is missing from the material record, is another aspect of this interest.

Finally, other elements of intangibility in historic dress, such as history and affect, informs Hilary’s long-term work on magical shoes, especially the historic and cultural uses of red shoes, and the intersections of shoes with pre-modern beliefs and emotions, including mythology and fairytales.

Current projects

  • Dress in Regency Britain (London: Yale University Press, 2018)
  • Doctor of Philosophy, La Trobe University, Melbourne
    Thesis: ‘Reconstructing History: Knowledge-making, Materiality, Touch and the Intangible in Dress and Textiles, 1500-1850’. Supervisor: Professor Timothy Murray
  • ‘Holding the Sole: Shoes, Emotions and the Supernatural’ in Sally Holloway, S. Downes and S. Randles (eds), Feeling Things: Objects and Emotions through History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming)
  • In progress, ‘Bliaut, Blial, Brial: the broader material and cultural geographies of a twelfth-century prestige garment’, Parergon special issue on ‘Translating medieval culture: a global gaze’
  • In progress, ‘Regency Women and their Consumption of Fashion Plates’, Costume


  • Editorial board, Fashion Studies
  • Freeman of the City of London
  • Member of: Worshipful Company of Arts Scholars; Costume Society of Great Britain; Association of Dress Historians; Medieval Dress and Textile Society; Dress and Textile Specialists Network

In the media

Selected publications

  • 2017 ‘Jane Austen’s Pelisse Coat’ in Kathryn Sutherland (ed.) Jane Austen, Writer in the World (Oxford: Bodleian Library Press).
  • 2016 ‘Grave Emotions: Clothing and Textiles from Nineteenth-Century London Cemeteries’ in Textile: The Journal of Cloth and Culture, special issue on Emotional Textiles, June. DOI:
  • 2015 ‘Shoes as Magical Objects', in Helen Persson (ed.), Shoes: Pain and Pleasure (London: V&A Publications), 26-35.
  • 2015 Jane Malcolm-Davies, Hilary Davidson, Rachel Frost, ‘"He is of no account... if he have not a velvet or taffeta hat": A survey of excavated sixteenth-century knitted caps’, in K. Grömer and F. Pritchard (eds.) Aspects of the Design, Production and Use of Textiles and Clothing from the Bronze Age to the Early Modern Era (Budpest: Archaeolingua), 223-232.
  • 2015 'Aspects of the Design, Production and Use of Textiles and Clothing from the Bronze Age to the Early Modern Era'. NESAT XII. The North European Symposium of Archaeological Textiles, 21st – 24th May 2014 in Hallstatt, Austria. Archaeolingua Main Series 33. Budapest 2015.
  • 2015 ‘Reconstructing Jane Austen’s Silk Pelisse Coat, c. 1812-14’ in Costume, Volume 49, Issue 2, 198-223. DOI:
  • 2013 ‘Textiles’ in Michael Henderson, Adrian Miles, Don Walker, with Brian Connell, Robin Wroe-Brown (eds.), ‘He being dead yet speaketh’: excavations at three post-medieval burial grounds in Tower Hamlets, east London, 2004–10, MOLA Archaeology Studies 64 (London: Museum of London Archaeology Service).
  • 2012 ‘Medieval Romance and Trade’ and ‘Renaissance Splendour’ in Fashion: The Ultimate Book of Costume and Style. (London: Dorling Kindersley), 43-113.
  • 2012 ‘Textiles’ in Adrian Miles with Brian Connell (eds.), New Bunhill Fields Burial Ground, Southwark: Excavations at Globe Academy, 2008 (Molas Archaeology Studies) (London: Museum of London Archaeology).
  • 2012 ‘Chemise’, ‘Smock’, ‘Chainse’, ‘Bliaut’, ‘Shirt’ in G. R. Owen-Crocker, E. Coatsworth and M. Hayward (eds.), Encyclopedia of Dress and Textiles in the British Isles c. 450-1450 (Leiden and Boston: Brill).
  • 2010 ‘Fashion and the Spanish Court’ in G. Riello & P. McNeil (eds.), The Fashion History Reader: Global Perspectives (Oxford: Routledge), 169-171.
  • 2010 Hilary Davidson and Ieva Pīgozne, ‘Archaeological Textiles and Dress in Latvia from the 7th to 13th Centuries: Research, Results, Reconstructions’ in Gale. R. Owen-Crocker and Robin Netherton (eds.), Medieval Clothing and Textiles, Vol. VI, 1-32.
  • 2007 Hilary Davidson and Anna Hodson, ‘Joining Forces: the intersection of two replica garments’, in M. Hayward and E. Kramer (eds.), Textiles And Text: Re-Establishing The Links Between Archival And Object-Based Research (London: Archetype), 204-210.
  • 2006 ‘Sex and Sin: the Magic of Red Shoes’ in: Peter McNeil & Giorgio Riello (eds.), Shoes: A History from Sneakers to Sandal, (London: Berg, 2006 & 2012), 272-288.