A Fashion Museum exhibition shines a light on the treasures and fascinating stories from the 19th century Fashion Store
There are hundreds of fascinating individual stories within the Fashion Museum collection. But the new display, Collection Stories, is uncovering some of the hidden narratives to be found in the museum’s extensive 19th century store.
From shoes and bonnets to lace and wedding dresses, the treasured pieces specially selected for display hint at the astonishing size and depth of the Fashion Museum’s Designated Collection of around 100,000 objects.
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Many of the objects are going on display for the first time and the museum says exploring them in detail offers an opportunity to discover more about the people who wore them, the people who collected them and what they tell us about the history of fashionable dress.
Each display case is dedicated to a different element, with shawls, stoles and scarves; lace and whitework; bonnets and hats; wedding dresses; underwear; parasols and umbrellas; men’s waistcoats and hats; shoes and boots all on show, displayed amongst the storage boxes and acid-free tissues used to preserve them.
Here’s a selection of what’s in store:
Parasols, Umbrellas and Walking Sticks
The museum has a collection of 353 parasols, umbrellas and walking sticks. This is a black silk satin parasol lined with vivid purple silk and edged with embroidered black muslin in blue and gold flowers with a handle of natural gnarled wood from the 1880s.
The vivid purple used in this parasol could not have been achieved without the advances in science and chemical dyes made during the mid-19th century. In the 1850s a young chemistry student William Henry Perkin accidentally discovered the purple dye as a by-product when experimenting with artificial formulas to make anti-malarial drugs. In the 1860s and 70s ladies fashions were made using brilliant colours and there was a craze for purple.
Wedding dresses, nightdresses and underwear
This stunning silk satin wedding dress with 2m long train from the 1900s is displayed with its matching shoes, corset and garters. The dress was made by Mrs O’Donovan, a high end New York dress maker, and worn by New York socialite Emily Poor of Hackensack, New Jersey when she married Lieutenant W S Montgomery, a young naval officer, on June 30 1900.
The wedding dress is part of one of the largest wedding trousseaus in the Fashion Museum collection which includes underwear, nightdresses, receipts and wedding invitations, telling us the story of its wearer, Emily Poor.
Men’s waistcoats and hats
The Museum has a collection of about 330 men’s waistcoats and hats. This cream silk formal waistcoat with coloured silk embroidery in a design of purple bell-shaped flowers and red, green and brown oak leaves, was made to be worn at the Court of Queen Victoria in the 1850s.
The waistcoat is an example of the bright colours in menswear still seen at court at this time. Men attending court had a strict dress etiquette to conform to, consisting of either military uniform or the court suit. Court attire was very stylised and had changed very little since the 18th century, particularly for men.
Shoes and Boots
There are over 600 pairs of shoes and boots stored in the museum’s shoes and boots case.
These silk satin shoes decorated with glass beads, embroidery and diamantes, with Louis heels and diamante buckles date from around 1898. The shoes belonged to Mary Chamberlain, the American-born third wife of leading British politician Joseph Chamberlain. The collection includes a stunning collection of 35 pairs of shoes and boots by leading Paris fashion makers of the day.
Mary was from a New England political family and married Joseph Chamberlain in 1888 when he was 51, she 23. As his third wife, Mary became stepmother to Joe’s six children, including politicians Austen Chamberlain and Neville Chamberlain, who was Prime Minister between 1937 and 1940. She had a great interest in fashion and wrote frequently to her mother back home to discuss what to wear for particular occasions. One of Mary’s dresses by Worth is on display in the A History of Fashion in 100 Objects exhibition. She was a great hostess and needed lots of outfits for all her entertaining, which were mostly bought in Paris.
Lace and Whitework Dress Accessories
The Museum has over 2000 dress accessories made from lace and whitework. This pelerine collar from about 1827 has three layers – a small collar, over two tiers with padded satin stitch in a trailing leaf and flower design and needle lace fillings. In the 1820s and 30s there was a fashion for large collars almost like small capes.
The collar tells us a story about fashion history. Collars were usually detachable during this time and often worked in imitation lace. This one is special because it combines lace and whitework. Whitework, white embroidery on white fabric, was less costly to produce than lace and was widely used as an alternative in the 1700 and 1800s. Lace was so prized that it was often removed from one garment and transferred to another.
Hats and Bonnets
This poke bonnet from about 1847 is made from a seven-plait straw which has been overlapped and hand stitched in place. The bonnet has a silk and crepe lining with pale purple silk ribbon ties. The label inside reads ‘Mrs Prout’s Straw and Tuscan Establishment. Totnes. Apprentices Wanted.’
The seven-plait straw was a very complicated plait. Straw plaiting was a cottage industry and the plaits were made up by people in their homes. They were then made into bonnets by establishments such as Mrs Prout’s. The best straw came from Tuscany.
Straw hats were fashionable from the 18th century, and by the mid-1800s this style of straw bonnet was very popular. It framed the face and complemented the fashionable hairstyle of the time.
Shawls, Stoles and Scarves
The Museum has a large collection dating from the 18th century onwards and this bold red plush tartan velvet stole with strawberry pink silk lining dates from around 1812. In 1810 the fashion for white dresses and column style dresses was popular and stoles were worn to complement them. Stoles and scarves from India, in particular Kashmir, were the height of fashion in the 19th century, with France and Britain also becoming big centres for production.
In a letter from the museum’s Founder Doris Langley Moore to the donor, a Miss F M Moore, in 1963 Langley Moore suggests she is making preparations to leave the newly established Museum of Costume in Bath, saying “the pink plush scarf is another item I shall be quite sorry to leave behind in Bath”.
Doris Langley Moore was a writer and, in her own words, a collector of ‘antique costumes’. Mrs Langley Moore donated her collection to Bath City Council and, working together, she and the Council founded the Fashion Museum in Bath in 1963.
Collection Stories will open at the Fashion Museum on May 17, 2019.
Fashion Museum Bath
The Fashion Museum Bath holds a world-class collection of contemporary and historic dress located in a World Heritage City. The museum was founded by writer and collector Doris Langley Moore as the Museum of Costume, Bath and has been based in Bath’s Grade 1-listed 18th century Assembly Rooms since 1963.…