Friday, 20 July 2012

Fashion History Exhibitions

Our trip to Devon surprising managed to indulge my interest in vintage fashion and history, which I have always had but has obviously come more to the fore since opening the shop.  As a history graduate I know history is everywhere, as is fashion; what I didn't expect was the quantity of costume and fashion history exhibitions to be found in Devon, as well as a lot of vintage shops (Revival in Totnes is definitely worth a visit) and antique markets (Barnstaple's Pannier's Market has so much to see- especially on a Wednesday).  This post however, is about two of the exhibitions we saw which stood out the most.

Totnes Fashion and Textile Museum is an unassuming building (we passed it twice before we realised where we were going) which to enter the galleries you have to climb some fairly steep stairs.  It is a very small museum but do not be misled the contents are beautiful and the selection of resources available in the shop are unique and valuable for the costumer.  

What I loved about the exhibition is that although there were definite areas in the gallery of different displays, there was still the mix of eras, so you got a unique opportunity to compare like for like outfits from different eras next to each other.  

It certainly isn't a day's worth of museum, or even a morning but it is definitely worth 30-40 minutes out of your day to have a good look (although I could and would have spent longer!)  What is amazing is seeing the size of the dresses, the average height was a lot shorter in the Victorian era (about 5'2" according to WikiAnswers) so all the dresses seem so dainty, and not forgetting the corsets nipping those waists in.

Later that week we headed to Killerton House which has a well-known fashion collection upstairs.  The house itself is gorgeous, with a gorgeous interior with no barriers which really allowed you to really interact with the environment and imagine what it may have been like to live the last century.  

There was a lot more to see here, with a whole floor of the house devoted to it, including a room (which the children loved) where you could try on some reproduction dresses, suits, hats and gloves from regency through to the 1950s.  The collection has some of the most amazing 1700's, Regency and Victorian dresses, I am no expert in this era of fashion but have always loved the styling and so couldn't resist sharing some of these dresses with you (if you are interested I would recommend visiting American Duchess' blog as she is a has regular posts on some amazing projects she works on making similar dresses.)

From left to right show a 1770 dress made from silk, linen and calamanco (it is displayed from the rear because the front is open and it does not have the underskirts with it); 1840 metal and taffeta dress bodice (so called I presume because it requires underskirts and so on to complete the dress); and the last image I cannot find my notes as to the date/manufacture but the hips give it away as a 1700's dress.  I covet a time when I could have worn these dresses, although I suspect that lack of life choices and freedom would have outweighed the love of the clothing.  

There were two other pieces which really caught my eye at this exhibition- this amazing (and I cannot emphasise enough how amazing it was) evening cape.  Initially I thought it was a dress but on a bit more research when I came back home it seems it was actually a cape (which again explained the rear on display- another visitor and I were wondering what the front must look like if the back was that amazing, or whether the front was in fact quite simple in contrast- it occurred to neither of us it didn't have a front).

I didn't check the sign on this one (was too in awe of the size of it- the image does not do it justice), so I am not sure of the age or construction however looking at it, it certainly smacks of something from the early 1920s era, with the shape and the adornments.

The other item was the corset on the original shop display dummy from the nineteenth century by "The celebrated CB Corsets- Corset de Première Quality", I literally stopped in my tracks as I walked past this.  Corsets are one of those items which are inherently fascinating, beautiful and lets face it quite scary (I mean look at the waist- I consider myself fairly thin but that is something else... although maybe one day I may be tempted to try one who knows- but not THAT small though, I'm not sure I have much spare room for organs!!)

Following on from seeing this corset it got me thinking about foundation garments (that and my recent purchase of a bullet bra from What Katie Did) so coming next week I will be posting the first in a series of vintage foundation garments posts; also the next in the upcycling series will be coming up on buttons.


  1. I am over here drooling over that corset. I wish that it was easier to find a quality corset maker where I live. It is such a dying skill. Corset making needs and immediate revival. They just shape the female body so elegantly and provide such a glamorous exaggeration to the female form.

    1. I know it's beautiful isn't it?! I'm no corset wearer myself but I'm all for a bit of shapewear whetehr it's girdles or fluncing petticoats! Love it!

  2. I love corsets. They’re so great for posture.


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