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Bath Fashion Museum 2019: Collection Stories and Little and Large

I recently visited the Bath Fashion Museum for what is now turning out to be my annual appointment. Each year the musuem launches a new exhibition and of course there is the main section of the Museum featuring the “History of Fashion through 100 Objects”. This year the Collection Stories exhibit focuses on their collection of nineteenth century clothing and accessories. Here are some of the highlights of the exhibition.

Seventeenth century gloves

Seventeenth century gloves

Hats and Bonnets

The collection displays straw poke bonnets from the mid-nineteenth century. When they were worn the bonnets were tied with silk ribbons and there were often colourful silk trimmings added to the crown or the rim.

The poke bonnet came into fashion at the beginning of the 19th century. With its wide, rounded front brim which typically juts out beyond the wearer’s face, it complemented the fashionable hairstyles of the day where hair was worn up at the back with loops or ringlets at the sides. The name may refer to the way the brim “pokes” out or may be a reference to how the wearer’s hair can be contained within the bonnet.


Straw bonnet, 1840s

Straw bonnet, 1840s

The most desirable straw came from Tuscany. In fact, this article claims that there are still fifteen Florentine companies manufacturing straw hats to this day. In these hats each braid is plaited into the next so that the fabric of the bonnet appears continuous.

However, towards the end of the 18th century the French Revolution slowed imports, so most of the straw hats were manufacture in Britain. The initial plaiting of the straw was carried out as a cottage industry. The plaited braids were then sewn together. The hats were made up by milliners in cities and towns.

Some of the hats on display had the original label still visible. One of them showed that the hat was made by “Mrs Prout’s Straw and Tuscan Establishment, Totnes”. Just thought I’d add that labels in clothes, by contrast, were not seen until the 1870s

Lace and Whitework

In the early 19th century, collars and cuffs were separate items of dress. They would have been carefully tacked onto dresses and then removed when the dress was washed. The 1820s and 30s saw a fashion for large collars almost like small capes.

The collar below on the right features whitework, rather than lace. The white embroidery on white fabric was quicker to produce than lace and therefore not as costly; it was used almost as a lace substitute in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Lace collars

On the right, triple layered cream embroidered net pelerine collar with pendant squared ends, about 1827

Wedding Dresses

This dress made for the wedding of Emily Poor on June 30th 1900 and it was made by a New York dressmaker, O’Donovan. It came to the Museum complete with matching accessories and many items of the bride’s trousseau, including underclothes and nightwear. The dress is made of silk satin, with a separate bodice. There is a high collar and cuffs made from needle lace.

Wedding Dress, 1900

Wedding Dress, 1900


Bride's trousseau, 1900

Bride’s trousseau, 1900

Little and Large

This section of the display featured fashion dolls, also called “poupée de la mode” or moppets from the eighteenth century. These were dolls that replicated the fashions of the time, allowing the buying to view a particular outfit before it was made up into a full-sized dress.

I found a good description of their use in The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grisson, which I read recently:

I have been assured that these moppets are wearing the very latest in London fashion. I am having both of these copied for you by an excellent dressmaker here in Williamsburg, and I will bring the finished product to you in the spring. It is my heart’s desire to see you wear them in Philadelphia. I am hopeful that you approve of the fabric and colour selection.”

The moppets were wooden dolls with painted faces, and their human hair was done up in elaborate curls. Their dresses were of a gossamer fabric: one was an empire style in blue, the body and train trimmed in elegant silver embroidery; the other, similar in style was a pale cream trimmed with white embroidery and ivory ribbons.”

This doll was donated by Mrs Mary Taylor and had belonged to one of her aunts, whose father had been rector of Bath Abbey.

This doll was donated by Mrs Mary Taylor and had belonged to one of her aunts, whose father had been rector of Bath Abbey.

Wax was a popular material in Britain for making dolls in the mid to late 19th century. Many makers were from Italian families who had settled in Britain and adapted the tradition for creating figures for the “presepe” (nativity scenes). The clothes the dolls were dressed in, were often made in Paris.

Fashion doll, circa 1880s. Princess line silk bodice and skirt, 1880s

Fashion doll, circa 1880s. Princess line silk bodice and skirt, 1880s

Fashionable accessories completed the look: the doll below in plum coloured satin came with earrings and pearl necklace, ribbons in her hair, shoes that perfectly matched her dress and all the layers of underwear that helped to form the fashionable outline.

Good quality dolls of this type with realistic body shapes designed to show off the latest fashions were popular from the 1860s to the 1880s. They would have been expensive to buy. The various parts – including the porcelain head, arms and legs and kid leather body were often made in Germany and assembled by French doll makers such as Jumeau or Gaultier.

Fashion dolls, circa 1870s. Plum coloured satin dress trimmed with ecru lace.

Fashion dolls, circa 1870s. Plum coloured satin dress trimmed with ecru lace.

When the doll was given to the Musuem in 1968, she was so precious and fragile that she travelled in a box and was met by Museum staff from Bath Spa train station.

More "mauve measles"

More “mauve measles”


Plums and purples were a very popular colour in the 1860s – 70s. The first synthetic purple dyestuff, was discovered in 1856 by William Henry Perkin. William made his discovery whilst experimenting in a makeshift home laboratory. He named his product Mauveine. It was made from aniline, an oily liquid found in coal tar. Unlike previous natural dyes, the new aniline dye was colour fast and could be produced in industrial quantities. It was a huge commercial success and became so popular that the craze for purple was called “the mauve measles” by Punch magazine:

One of the first symptoms by which the malady declares itself consists in the eruption of  a measly rash of ribbons, about the head and neck of the person who has caught it“ [1]

Men’s Hats and Waistcoats

During the 19th century, men who were members of the aristocracy, the armed forces or the Cabinet could attend the royal court by invitation, either to be presented themselves to the king or queen or to attend the presentations of wives and daughters.

There was a strict dress code for such occasions. Men attending court wore either their military uniform or a court suit. This included a coat with tails, waistcoat, knee breeches, cream silk stockings, lace cuffs, cravat, a bicorn hat and a sword.

The dress code was based on eighteenth century fashions and had remained unchanged for during most of the 19th century. Precise descriptions of the dress code were published by the Lord Chamberlain’s Office. [2]

The waistcoat below was part of such an ensemble. It is embroidered with flowers and leaves and has points at the front as stipulated by the codes of formal court dress.

Court Dress Waistcoat

Court Dress Waistcoat

[1] “The Mauve Measles”, Punch, Saturday, August 20, 1851, p. 81

[2] Dress and Insignia worn at His Majesty’s Court, 1921


On the doorstep – Blaise Castle House Museum

I’m sure many of us go on holiday and enthusiastically embrace the cultural delights on offer . But how many of us, have neglected to visit the wonderful museums and art galleries on our doorsteps? A little while ago I decided that I hadn’t visited the House Museum at Blaise Castle for years. The main reason for my visit was to take a look at the costumes and social history exhibits. The museum has a huge collection of costumes dating from the early eighteenth century onwards. Sadly only a fraction of them are on display, but the small exhibition is an interesting insight. Apparently it is possible to arrange a visit with the curator if you want to see some of the other items which are in storage.

First, there is a display of shoes and accessories. These shoes are made of brocade cloth and have vellum soles. It’s a shame, but I didn’t make a note of the date of these shoes, but I can see the left and right shoe are not differentiated, which is typical of shoes before the nineteenth century.

Regency Shoes

Eighteenth century shoes

These boots from the 1850s were made of cloth and have leather toes. This type of boot was generally used for walking and travelling


Nineteenth century walking boots


1930s Shoes

1930s Shoes


1960s shoes

1960s shoes

These beautiful court shoes date from the 1950s.  The stiletto heel, is for me always associated with the 1980s. However, the phrase “stiletto heel” was first recorded in the early 1930s. The stiletto heel is made of a metal spike embedded in the heel, but there is uncertainty about when this technique was first used, but thin high heels were certainly around in the late 19th century.

1950s shoes

1950s shoes

My favourites, though, are the boy’s football boots from the 1930s. They are, of course, made of leather and very different from their modern counterparts!

Children's football boots

Children’s football boots

This brocade evening dress dates from about 1927.

1920s evening dress

1920s evening dress

This fantastic velvet and chiffon dress from the 1930s would have been an amazing dress for a glamorous occasion.

1930s evening dress

1930s evening dress

A couple of dresses from the 1960s. On the left, a silk cocktail dress and on the right, a maxi-length evening dress

1960s dresses

1960s dresses

Muslin regency dress

Muslin regency dress

There are also a few older dresses. I particular like the regency dresses. This white muslin dress dates from 1812 and shows the silhouette evokes classical Greek statues.

The embroidery is created using tambour work, a popular and fashionable style of embroidery at this time using a pick to pull thread through the fabric. I think the embroidery has a Greek feel to it too.

Muslin regency dress

Muslin regency dress

This striped silk dress is more triangular in shape, as favoured by Parisian ladies. The end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815 the Paris influences could once more be seen in British fashions.

Regency Dress

Regency Dress

The hem of this dress is padded, this helped to hold the skirt of the dress in the desired shape and was also decorative.

Bodice of Regency Dress

Bodice of Regency Dress

Hem of Regency Dress

Hem of Regency Dress

This pelisse robe was worn over the dress like a coat. It dates from around 1825. It is still a beautiful vibrant colour.

Pelisse 1825

Pelisse 1825

The decorative squares at the hems and cuffs are made by covering small squares of cardboard with fabric.

Pelisse Cuff

Pelisse Cuff

This next dress shows the lower waistline and fuller skirts of the early Victorian era (1840).

Early Victorian Dress

Early Victorian Dress

This dress is from the later Victorian era when bustles replaced the crinoline.

Victorian Dress

Victorian Dress

The great advantage of this museum is its small size and being able to get so close to the clothes.  Not only could I get a real feel for the details and embroidery, but I could even see the hand stitches on some of the dresses.


Fashion Museum in Bath – Part 2

The final section of the Fashion Museum includes the “Dress of the Year” exhibits. Each year since 1963, the museum has held an annual fashion award. A leading fashion expert is asked to choose a dress or outfit that represents the latest and most influential ideas in contemporary fashion. The selected outfit is donated to the museum by the designer or maker.

Only some are on display at the moment and these mostly represent the most recent outfits. This cut-off ballgown which is actually worn with black silk trousers is design by Christian Dior. The embroidery is exquisite.


This was the 2013 dress by Christopher Kane: It’s an interesting dress – until you get close up you don’t realise that the black strips are gaffer tape! Weirdly, you wouldn’t expect it, but it just seems to work.


This creation, I’m not so sure about. It is the 2014 outfit by Gareth Pugh. Yes, you are right, it is made of plastic and consists of a plastic coat and calico trousers. Pugh has been described as the “latest addition to a long tradition of fashion-as-performance-art”


It’s difficult to know whether these most recent Dress of the Years represent contemporary fashion well. I think it was interesting to look back at the older dresses. I can certainly see the defining features of sixties, seventies and eighties fashion here, but perhaps it is more difficult to see anything defining the decades for the last three decades.

A tour of the Assembly Rooms is included in the price of the Fashion Museum ticket, and I particularly wanted to take a look at the Assembly rooms. Every year in September, a Regency Ball is held in the Assembly Rooms and it has long been on my list to go to this ball. It is certainly a beautiful setting and hey I want to live out my Elizabeth Bennet fantasies.

I almost missed the tour, though! I got to the appointed meeting point outside the shop well ahead of time, but seeing no one was yet there, I just popped in the shop to look around for a few minutes. Big mistake! The tour left without me; they certainly didn’t hang around! After a bit of misdirection and finding myself on the wrong side of locked door, I eventually found the tour group! I’m very glad I did as the tour was excellent. So, here is a short history of the Assembly Rooms.

The Assembly Rooms were designed by John Wood, the Younger in 1769. They were built to serve the newly built fashionable area which included The Circus, Queen Square and the Royal Crescent and were for balls, concerts and gambling. Originally they were called the “Upper Rooms” or the “New Assembly Rooms”. The previously built Assembly Rooms near the abbey became known as the Lower Assembly Rooms, but they closed soon after the Upper Rooms opened. The Assembly Rooms opened with a grand ball in 1771.

The Assembly Rooms are composed of four main function rooms; a 30 m (100-foot-long) ballroom — the largest Georgian interior in Bath; the tea room; the card room; and the octagon.

The first room we visited was the Ball Room. Jane Austen set two of her novels in Bath, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.  They both mention the Assembly Rooms.

Mrs Allen was so long in dressing, that they did not enter the ball-room till late. The season was full, the room crowded, and the two ladies squeezed in as well as they could. As for Mr Allen, he repaired directly to the card-room, and left them to enjoy a mob by themselves.

— Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey
It was certainly true that the Assembly Rooms could be very crowded. One concert in 1779 was apparently attended by around 800 ladies and gentlemen and 60 members of the nobility were present. The high ceilings provided good ventilation on crowded ball nights; I can just imagine how hot it got with all that dancing and the crush of all those bodies. The windows set at this high level also prevented outsiders from peering in.



Bath’s most famous Master of Ceremonies was Beau Nash, legendary gambler and socialite. In Georgian days, The Master of Ceremonies would arrange “society’s social life” – balls, dances and social gatherings and ensure their smooth running. Nash played a leading role in making Bath the most fashionable resort in 18th-century England. He drew up a code of conduct for polite behaviour in society; swearing was banned, as was the carrying of swords to reduce the risk of disputes ending in violence. He put in place rules that governed what time public balls could begin and end and that the opening dance was always to be a Minuet.

In Regency times, the Bath season ran from October to early June, during which the Upper Rooms held two balls a week, a dress ball on Monday evenings and a fancy ball on Thursdays. The ball consisted of two hours of minuets, followed by an hour of more lively country dances until tea at 9 o’clock. More country dances followed until the evening’s entertainment finished, promptly at 11 o’clock.

There are nine chandeliers in the rooms, five in the ballroom. The most famous manufacturer of chandeliers in the Georgian period was William Parker. Parker was given the task of making 3 chandeliers for the Tea Room and Jonathan Collet was commissioned to make 5 chandeliers for the Ballroom. However, one of the arms fell during a dance in the Ballroom and Collet was asked to remove his chandeliers. Parker made the five chandeliers that are now in the Ballroom.

Unfortunately, Collet had problems paying back the money he owed the Assembly Rooms so it was agreed to keep the large chandelier as long as it was made safe. It now hangs in the Octagon Room.

Parker’s design for five Ballroom chandeliers are considered to be among the finest eighteenth century chandeliers in the world. He abandoned the  style for chandeliers which incorporated a large ball as the centre from which the arms extended. Instead he designed a vase shape. The chandeliers were originally lit by candles, but later gas lighting was used and today the electric cables run through the gas pipes that were installed during Victorian times.


During the Second World War, the chandeliers were removed for safe-keeping to caves in Bristol. Our guide wasn’t sure, but I suspect they were stored in Redcliffe Caves under St Mary Redcliffe Church. This was a fortunate move as during the Bath Blitz, one of the retaliatory raids on England known as the Baedeker Blitz, the Assembly Rooms were hit and badly damaged. The ballroom ceiling had to repaired and the cream-coloured Bath stone in the Tea Room was tinged a pink colour by the heat of the fire.

The next room we moved to was the Octagon. This room has four fireplaces and was used for gambling. Gambling was very popular in Georgian society and the Assembly Rooms catered for this by providing rooms which were open for card games every day except Sunday.


Finally we took a look at the Tea Room, which was set out for a private function. In Georgian times, on ball nights, everyone was required to pay an extra sixpence on entrance for supper. Supper was served in the Tea Room. There were also public teas on Sundays when admission cost sixpence per person. Tea was served weak and black but sometimes with arrack and lemon. Tea was so expensive at this time that the used tea leaves were also sold afterwards from the kitchens.


I hope you enjoyed my tour of the Fashion Museum and Assembly Rooms. If you ever find yourself in Bath, these are both very much worth a visit.

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Fashion Museum in Bath – Part 1

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.

1700s waistcoat

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.

Rove a l'anglaise

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.

Regency Dress

This 1816 frock is a simple cotton frock, but it is fastened at the back rather than the front.

Regency Dress

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!

Regency Dress

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.

1930s dress

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.

1940s fashions

Yves Saint Laurent designed this Mondrian-inspired wool shift dress in the 1960s.

Mondrian Dress

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.

Regency dresses


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.

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Whatever shall I wear?

The Jane Austen Festival in Bath has been taking place over the last two weeks. There are many events including a regency ball and dance lessons. However, since I haven’t the required dress, I decided that I would attend a talk called “Whatever shall I wear?” by Amy Nichole of the Period Costume shop. Amy Nichole is an expert in historic costume and period design. Her demonstration guided us through the process of researching historical designs, recreating the garment and finally how to wear the costume.

I apologise in advance for the quality of the photos. I took my old point-and-click camera as I didn’t feel like carrying the larger camera around Bath, but the theatre was rather dark and I wasn’t allowed to use flash. Not withstanding that, I also forgot to re-charge the camera and I didn’t get much chance to snap away before the batteries ran out. All in all it is a wonder that I got any photos at all!

Amy first appeared on stage in her underwear – well her regency underwear anyway! The underwear consisted a shift and stays. Stays are an 18th century corset. Amy actually wore “jumps”, which are a shorter, more relaxed version of stays and allow the body far more flexibility. This was an important part of the demonstration as without this shorter form of corsetry, Amy wouldn’t have been able to put on her own shoes! As well as stays or “jumps”, a shift (usually of cotton or linen) was also worn under a gown.


18th century stays

In the 18th century, pockets were worn under the gown and tied around the waist. A regency lady would be likely to carry gloves, a reticule (purse), a handkerchief, smelling salts and a fan in her pockets. Gloves could also be partially taken off since long gloves can be difficult to remove when it gets hot. There was a opening on the inside of the gloves at the wrist and the glove hands could be slipped off and tucked into the arms for when you wished to eat!


A “fichu” on the left and on the right, original 18th century gloves – you won’t believe how fine the stitching is on these.

Amy dressed, first of all, in day wear. This consisted of a “drop-front” gown. Her gown was based on a gown in the Bath Fashion Museum dated 1804. Any demonstrated how to dress in this type of gown. First, you have to be pinned into it at the front. Then, the drop-front is pulled up hiding the pinned section. A regency lady may also wear a “fichu” which is a large neckerchief or shawl, generally folded into a triangle and tucked into the neckline. This would help shade her from the sun.

Dresses may also be created with draw strings at the front (both at the waist, which would be Empire line and at the neckline).  Amy had created the most beautiful dress with this design from a white cotton-silk muslin.


Cotton-silk muslin dress

My favourite gown, though was the ball gown. This was made from a silk in pale green shot with blue. It fastened at the back with buttons and had short-sleeves and a train.


Getting dressed in a regency ball gown


Regency ball gown

Amy gets her fabric at Shepherds Bush market. Apparently, the market stocks a lot of designer, end-of-line fabrics and is relatively inexpensive. Just as well as Amy’s ball gown was made with 4 metres of silk taffeta!

For footwear, Amy recommended angle-length flat boots for during the day. These would be laced at the side in the 18th century, but that would be hard to find today. For evening wear, she suggested some ballet pumps. Ballet shoes have scarcely changed in design in two hundred years and make an easy-to-find addition to the costume.

For extra warmth the regency lady would have a shawl. Paisley was a popular design at this period and Amy had an example of an original Regency-period shawl. A spencer could also be worn. This was a short jacket.

We also looked at men’s fashion. Men’s  jackets were commonly made in cotton twill, which could be dyed with indigo or alternatively wool. The jackets had pockets in the tails. In the regency period, the collar generally sits away from the neck so that the silk waistcoat can be seen underneath. Men’s breeches had drop fronts and there were buttons for braces on inside. Amy showed us a beautiful pair of breeches made of Duchesse silk satin. Men’s fashion was far from dull in the 18th century.

Under the jacket linen shirts were worn. Think Colin Firth as Mr Darcy in Pride and Prejudice! The fabric is incredibly fine and becomes softer with wear.  The arms have godets and they were designed so that men could have very free movement in the shirt.


Colin Firth as Mr Darcy

This was definitely a fun and interesting talk. Amy recommended visiting museums and getting inspiration for costume design from original period garments. I’ve since learned that the Bath Fashion Museum does allow visitors to examine items from its collection close-up. I think I’ll arrange a visit.