Sunday 22 October 2017

Edinburgh - the costume post

My trip to Edinburgh didn't just involve taking photographs and walking up and down slopes and steps (although there was a lot of that) - naturally dressmaking and costumes featured as well.

The Dress Fabric Company, the lovely fabric shop in Bruntsfield, will get its own post in time. For now I'm featuring the two costume-related places I visited.

First up, the National Museum of Scotland.

National Museum of Scotland - the main gallery

The Scottish National Costume Museum, Shambellie House, closed in 2012. The costume collection is now displayed on the ground floor of the Art, Design and Fashion galleries. As so often seems to happen in museums nowadays, the combination of glass cases and reflections of illuminated images elsewhere made it hard to get decent photographs; so what follows is an eclectic mix of some of the pieces on display.

Keeki by Harvy Santos, 2015

Gauntlet gloves, c1610-30

Evening dress, Lucile Ltd, c1918-20

Embroidered jumps, c1730-60

Beaded satin shoes, c1910-14

Stays and stomacher, c1730-50 (2 & 4), wooden busk, c1670-1730 (3)

Evening dress of silk net, c1810-20

Court mantua, 1750s

Wool suit, Tommy Nutter, 1989

Finally, although I couldn't get a good photograph of the whole thing I had to include this dress; it makes such clever use of the printed fabric.

Block printed dress, c1740-60

The catalyst for the trip was an exhibition at another national museum; True to Life | British Realist Painting in the 1920s and 1930s at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. I absolutely loved it: even if the entire rest of the holiday had been terrible (it most definitely wasn't), it would have been worth it for this alone.

Realist British painting of the inter-war period is almost forgotten now; the names of many of the artists featured were unknown to me. As the exhibition title suggests, the emphasis was on accurately representing the subject, with considerable attention to detail.

For a costume nerd with a love of inter-war fashions (i.e. me), this was heaven. The front cover of the catalogue gives a good idea of what was to come.

By the Hills, Gerald Leslie Brockhurst, 1939

I spent far too long trying to work out what was going on with this dress; the gallery assistants must have wondered what on earth I was doing. The red section overlaps the black (which has braid on it) on the left side, but the black overlaps the red on the right!

The Yellow Glove, James Cowie, 1928

Even the stockings and shoes, and the kink in the hat brim, are perfectly rendered in this painting.

Elsie, Dora Carline, 1929

My favourite was this one, probably because of the fabulous hat!

Pauline Waiting, Sir Herbert James Gunn, 1939

This was the golden era of rail travel, and the railway companies frequently employed famous artists to create artwork for their advertising posters. I loved the 1920s outfit in this painting for the London, Midland and Scottish Railway, but I was a little worried by the reader's virulent green drink!

Restaurant Car, Leonard Campbell Taylor, c1935

Although the bathing suits catch the eye, there are some lovely clothes elsewhere in this image commissioned by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway. In particular I'd really like to recreate the green dress - but in a different colour, obviously!

Blackpool, Fortunino Matania, c1937

Sadly True to Life only has another week to run but if this has whetted your appetite, you can buy the catalogue here.


  1. Always enjoy your posts! This one made me want to book a ticket to Edinburgh immediately. I just love the images you have included here - Elsie is a great look. These paintings say so much about the lives of women - usually lives that have been unexplored or relegated to the Domestic genre, and therefore 'not important'. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Thank you Kate! The exhibition was fascinating on so many levels. The museums in Edinburgh seem to operate an excellent policy whereby an exhibition ticket is valid all day - you can come and go as you please. I enjoyed this one so much that I went round it twice, with a break for lunch in the middle!