The colours are significant because unlike most costume displays, which are displayed in chronological order, these dresses are arranged by colour; in a palette which starts with scarlet, fades through pink and mauve to silver, then through orange and yellow to cream and gold. Displayed alongside the dresses is a selection of shoes, also arranged by colour.
|Shoes, shoes and more shoes|
The effect of such an arrangement is startling. When looking at a chronological display, it can become easy to see each garment in terms of its progression from a previous style, and to view the whole thing in terms of continuation. This exhibition, jumping as it does from the soft, frothy 1912 dress mentioned above to a slightly stiff-looking cream and gold dress from the 1960s, forces you to consider each garment as a distinct item.
|Dresses from the 1930s, 1910s and 1960s displayed together|
Because these are evening garments, luxurious fabrics such as satin and chiffon feature heavily. Many of the dresses make use of metallic threads or sparkling embellishments while others, such as the red silk satin 1950s cocktail dress which opens the exhibition, make clever use of folding and draping fabric. Combined with the sweep of colour, the overall effect is of a particularly well-laden and tempting sweet trolley.
|Another view of the exhibition. The 2009 dress is second from the right.|
One small disappointment: arranging the dresses in a row limits how much you can see of each one. For some it was possible to see each side by squinting down the display, as was the case with this early 1960s grey silk satin dress with pearl embroidery, but others were too close to their neighbours for this to be achievable.
|Left, front and right views of the Michael Sherard grey satin dress|
A mirror placed at an angle at one end of the display provided a tantalizing but murky glimpse of the back of a few of the gowns, but that was all. For someone who likes to get a feel of how a garment is constructed, plus its closures etc. this was frustrating.
|The back views|
This is a minor quibble though, and almost certainly wouldn't bother most visitors. Glamour is well worth a visit, and continues throughout 2012. For National Trust members, entry to the Fashion Museum is free.