Sunday 2 February 2014

Georgians: Dress for Polite Society at the Fashion Museum Bath

1720s - man's coat is woollen broadcloth
The Fashion Museum has redisplayed the first section of their collection. Entitled Georgians: Dress for polite society the display runs from 25 January 2014 to 1 January 2015. The downside, for those interested in the seventeenth century and earlier, is that apart from examples from the Glovers Company collection in a different section of the museum, no early material is shown. The wonderful silver tissue dress from the 1660s and other early garments have gone back into store. Some of them had been on display for many years and are very fragile, so this is understandable.

1750s cinnamon brown gown, the silk is 1720s
                         The Georgians is a clean looking, well lit display of some 30 or so original ladies’ gowns and gentlemen’s suits dating from the 1720s to the 1820s. Someone I spoke to said that it seemed too stark. This is because the suits and gowns are displayed on headless mannequins, without any accoutrements. The only non period additions are plain white silks used to indicate where the petticoat or stomacher would have been.  On the other hand this does means that neckline and sleeve ends can be seen without being disguised by fichus, and detachable cuffs. It would have been nice to have accompanied the display with some separate cases with the missing fichus, not to mention, caps and hats, stockings and shoes, etc.

The red silk damask is c.1750
The labels are low down, but quite large print, so they can be seen without too much bending over. What surprised me were the number of examples where the silk used for a gown was twenty or thirty years older than the gown itself, so for example the cinnamon brown brocaded silk dates from the 1720s, while the style of the gown is some thirty years later.

The section ends with a case of modern designers work influence by the 18th century, including a Vivienne Westwood ball gown.

1760s court gowns
It is quite interesting to go back and see how displays have changed over the years. I purchased from the museum shop a copy of Fashion Museum Treasures (£4.50, published 2009, ISBN 978 1 857 59553 6) and compared the photographs of the 1760s court mantuas with extremely wide panniers, with the pictures I have in the c.1994 authorised guide. In the 1990s guide the mannequins have hands and heads with dressed hair, and the garment is displayed with a stomacher and fan in hand. An even earlier guide, probably from the late 1970s, has no photographs and dates from a time when entry to the museum was 30p (today it is £8).  Finally I have a very earlier guide to the Museum of Costume (it changed its name to Fashion
1820 - end of the Georgians
Museum in 2007), from the days, 1955 and just after, when it was at Eridge Castle, and examples of 19th century clothing in the collection are pictured being worn by well known ladies of the time, for example Vivien Leigh, Margot Fonteyn, and
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, something that would not be done today.

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