On my list of places to visit for years has been the Fashion Museum in Bath. The only excuse that I can possibly give for not visiting sooner, is that we do the touristy things on holiday, but rarely in our own back yard.
To do proper justice to this museum I visited on a day off from work, on my own, without being hassled to hurry by Master Steely. Even so, two hours in the museum didn’t give me time to fully absorb it all and I’m sure I will pay another visit at some point in the near future.
The main exhibition is arranged as 100 objects in chronological order from the earliest exhibit to the most recent exhibit. There are a few exhibits relating to shoes, gloves and other accessories too as you move through the centuries. There is both an audio guide and written information so there is quite a lot to absorb in one sitting. I would recommend focussing on an era or time of clothing that really interests you. Last year I went to a fascinating talk about regency fashion and I was particular drawn to the eighteenth century clothing, so forgive me if my post is a little regency heavy.
The earliest item in the collection is a man’s shirt from Tudor period. It’s made of linen with blackwork embroidery. It would have been worn with hose and under a doublet. It’s so remarkable that something from that long ago has survived in such great condition.
This beautiful quilted and embroidered waistcoat is from the 1700s. It would have been worn with a petticoat and open gown.
This is a silk waistcoat from the 1740s. Apparently embroidery on the front panels of the waistcoat may have been worked in China and exported. Generally the embroidery was done on flat panels and then made up into the garment.
This 1760s robe is described as a “robe a l’anglaise” and is made from silk. The robe à l’anglaise was an open robe consisting of a bodice cut in one piece with an overskirt that was parted in front to reveal a matching petticoat.
These stays date from the 1780s. They were stiffened with whale bones and their primary purpose was to raise and shape the breasts and create a V-shaped upper body. Outer garments were worn over the the stays. Well-fitting eighteenth-century corsets were apparently quite comfortable and did not restrict breathing. I haven’t worn them personally, although with all that boning I’m not sure how easy it would be to bend at the waist.
Women’s fashion in the Regency era is characterised by a high waistline and column-like silhouette. The style was inspired by a renewed fascination of the classical past and the frocks were often made of white muslin which draped loosely, just like the garments on Greek and Roman statues. These fashions originated as a reaction against the stiffly boned corsets and brightly colored satins worn by the aristocracy in revolutionary France.
The word “frock” replaced “gown” in the early 1800s. The first regency frock photographed here is dated 1800. It is made of muslin and printed with a traditional Indian pine cone or patka motif.
This 1816 frock is a simple cotton frock, but it is fastened at the back rather than the front.
This one is my absolute favourite. If I had been going to a ball in the regency era and money was no object (well, of course it wouldn’t be as I’d be married to that nice Mr Darcy!), this is the dress I would wear. It is made of Madras Lace, a silk gauze with silk satin details. Just imagine the impression you’d make at the Assembly Rooms in a dress like that!
These are day dresses from the Victorian era. I didn’t make good notes on this, but I’m guessing they are from the 1860s, since the there are wide sleeves and high necklines and the bustle hasn’t appeared.
Only a couple of exhibits represent each of the decades of the twentieth century. This flapper dress is typical for the 1920s.
This stunning 1930s evening gown by Donguy of Paris, is another of my favourites from the exhibition. It’s cut on the bias with a red velvet back feature.
The 1940s dress shown below was actually worn as a wedding dress. Fabric was in short supply and rationed during the second world war and many war-time brides chose simple day dresses like this as their wedding dresses.
The black and pink party dress behind in the photo, is typical of the “make do and mend” philosophy in wartime Britain. It was made from black-out curtain fabric, which was unrationed and a recycled pink dress.
Yves Saint Laurent designed this Mondrian-inspired wool shift dress in the 1960s.
The seventies is represented by this lemon-coloured rayon jersey dress by Jean Muir and a trouser suit by Missoni. The trouser suit made from a machine-knitted silk and lurex.
The other exhibition in the museum at the moment is a “Behind the Scenes” room with just a few of the other exhibits from the museum’s collection on display.
Again, a few regency dresses …. sorry, I went a bit regency mad! I do like the pelisse (it’s a sort of regency coat) in the second photo. After about 1810 full-length pelisse’s were worn, but they could also be hip of knee length in the early regency period.
I noted this was rather plump and short model, and it reminded me of Queen Victoria in her later years. Nothing to indicate in the museum to whom this dress belonged. Strangely, though I found that indeed this dress is a mourning dress worn by Queen Vic. Not quite sure why the museum didn’t actually tell me it was!
Apologies for the photo; I had been struggling with the lighting in the museum.
That’s the end of my museum tour, but I did also visit the Assembly Rooms and I think that deserves a post all of its own.
As a final thought, the museum holds study sessions where you can see a selection of fashions of your choice from the collection. I think for my next visit I will book a study session; I would love to get a closer look at those regency dresses.