Sunday, 13 March 2016

A sneak peek at 'A History of Fashion'

I'm just back from my annual trip to Somerset for the wonderful Majma dance festival. As I often do, I stayed down there for the rest of the week, and one day went over to Bath.

Unfortunately the next exhibition at the Fashion Museum Bath, A History of Fashion in 100 Objects, doesn't open until 19th March. But I walked up to the Assembly Rooms anyway, thinking that I could at least look round the other rooms, and perhaps indulge in tea and cake in the café. However both rooms and café were closed for a private function. Feeling Very Grumpy Indeed, I went to reception to ask how much of the museum was open, and discovered that I could actually go round the exhibition, as it was being set up, for free! All grumpiness dissolved immediately, and off I set.

As the name suggests, the exhibition consists of 100 star objects from the Fashion Museum Bath’s collection, creating a history of fashion from 1600 to the present day. As the museum's collection contains 100,000 objects, whittling it down to just 100 must have been quite a task.

Before I launch into the photographs (and there's a lot of them), a couple of observations.

Firstly, the exhibition when I saw it was incomplete. This meant that there wasn't information on every exhibit, and that some sections weren't properly lit yet, so I couldn't take photographs. The other problem was the opposite; too much light. The information panels are illuminated rather than just printed onto card, so this led to some serious issues with reflections on the glass cases. Some reflections I was able to block by holding my coat out, and in one case I borrowed a total (and slightly bemused) stranger to stand in the way, but in some sections it was impossible to get pictures of a good enough quality to post here.

The exhibition starts with a smock decorated with bands of blackwork, followed by this amazing embroidered jacket.

Jacket, 1610s, possibly owned by Lady Alice L'Estrange

From embroidered Stuart clothing, it moves on to Georgian robes.

From 1610s to 1740s

The thistles quilted onto this petticoat suggest a Scottish link, and perhaps even Jacobite loyalties?

Quilted petticoat, 1740s

It isn't just about the clothes themselves; this stomacher is included to highlight the importance of pins in dress before buttons became more common.

Embroidered stomacher, 1740s

The next case moves on to later Georgian fashions.

1770s dresses

Although most of the exhibits are women's clothes, there is some male attire, such as this embroidered Macaroni jacket and waistcoat.

Man's embroidered suit, 1780s

As ever with exhibitions at the Fashion Museum, the exhibits are arranged so that you can see the back of at least some of the garments.

Display of fans, and back views of some of the dresses

From the brightly coloured dresses, it's a big change to the whiteness of the Regency era.

Regency dresses (and a rogue reflection)

Silk gauze and satin frock, 1817

I cannot lie, I struggle to feel any love for 1830s fashions. They're just so, well, droopy, somehow. But even I quite liked these examples.

1830s dresses, and Ayrshire work collar

Then round the corner were two alcoves in the process of being set up (hence the sheet on the floor in the next photograph. In the first alcove was this.

1860s dress

The fabric is very light and gauzy. There was no information, so I don't know if it is painted or printed, but here's the bodice in more detail.

Bodice close-up

Anyone who shares The Dreamstress's views on fringe might want to avert their eyes while passing the next alcove! Unfortunately this was barely lit, so I have had to tweak the image to make it more visible - hence the slightly odd colours. Again, there was no information on dates etc.

Fringed paisley dolman

Dotted around the exhibition are collections of accessories; the fan collection was visible in an earlier photograph. There is also a collection of nineteenth century of boots and shoes. According to a quote displayed nearby, by the 1850s coloured shoes were considered, "exceedingly vulgar", and, "white satin, black satin or kid and bronze kid are neater and more elegant".

Neat and elegant white shoes

What the writer would have made of the decoration on this pair, I can't imagine.

Bronze kid shoes with everything-but-the-kitchen-sink trim

The next case was clearly only just beginning to be set up. The emptiness gave it a wonderful 'hall of mirrors' effect.

1880s Aesthetic dressing gown

Opposite, in every way, is this corset. It has a 54cm / 21½" waist.

Corset, 1890s

In this side view you can clearly see the grommets, showing that it is nowhere near laced closed on the mannequin.

Side view

Just along from the corset was this long green jacket with southache trim. Ooh, what does this remind me of? (Yes Gina, I am going to keep mentioning this from time to time, until you finally finish your beautiful Boarding Suit!!)

Jacket with soutache trim

According to Women in the First World War, nurses' aprons were not issued with a red cross on them, so VADs had to attach their own. This would explain the slightly haphazard stitching on this example.

VAD apron

I've included this photograph of one of the display boards, because it was too dark to get a decent picture of the jumper itself.

Display panel

On a similar theme, in the next case is dress made by the donor's mother from specially printed fabric, worn on the day of Queen Elizabeth's coronation.

1953 coronation dress

1950s fashion

Also in this case is this amazing crochet blouse, made from a pattern issued by yarn manufacturer Coats.

Crochet blouse

The small figure in the front of the case is Miss Virginia Lachasse, a fashion doll made in 1954 by the House of Lachasse, a London couture house. A complete wardrobe was created for her, and while I've seen some of the outfits in the V&A, I'd never seen the actual doll. I must admit, I found it slightly creepy.

Outfit for Miss Virginia Lachasse

And the lady herself

The arrangements of the last few cases made it very difficult to take decent photographs. I was however able to get this image of a 1974 Jean Muir yellow rayon jersey dress and a circa 1982 Emmanuel ballgown. I did make something in a very similar shape to the latter, but shorter, a few years later - oh, the shame!

Late twentieth century fashion

The exhibition finishes with some of the Dresses of the Year, and this blue woollen Roland Mouret dress.

2015 'Galaxy' dress

This is the biggest exhibition I've even seen at the Fashion Museum; it takes up almost the entire museum space. It runs until 1 January 2018, so if this has whetted your appetite, there's plenty of time to see it. You can also see far better pictures of some of the exhibits in the online gallery here.


  1. Oh what a fun exhibit!! I LOVE the 1830s dresses and the lace pelerine? Le Sigh!!! It's funny that this era is not your favorite as it is one of mine! And it's funny that you should mention the boarding suit...I take it out every once in a while and look at it and put it away. I need to watch the movie again or get a fire lit under me so I can finish it! I think the thing holding me back is the hat as I am going to have to glue a million pheasant feathers onto the hat to get it to look right! But, yes, keep bugging me and thank you for this fabulous insiders view of the exhibit!

    1. I work on the basis that most of the people who read this blog won't be able to visit exhibitions in the UK, so I try to give a taste of the ones I visit.

      Funny you should mention pheasants and hats Gina - watch this space on Sunday!