The first case looks at travel wear, with garments ranging from the Victorian through to the 1970’s. The accompanying text discusses how clothes for travel changed over the years; from more formal dress, to that which is comfortable for long journeys. Outfits were chosen to reflect the changes in transport for travelling to holidays, for example the growing popularity of the motorcar in the 20’s, which saw a shift to looser fashions. I particularly liked the outfit for this period (pictured) the navy coat clearly of middle -eastern influence, the caption in the catalogue informs us the embroidery could have been Palestinian and bought on a previous holiday abroad. There was also an example of a holiday outfit worn in the time of utility, the dress and coat would have required clothing coupons to buy them.
|Dress for Travel through the Ages|
|Detail of Possible Palestinian Embroidery on a 1920's coat|
|Close up of 1940's Utility Coat and Dress|
The second case, much larger was split into two halves; the first, clothes worn for leisure while on holidays, exploring the changing styles of beach and swimwear. While the far end of the case showcased pieces for evening events and parties. There were several good examples of 50’s day wear; including a Horrockses dress and c.1954 four piece set of skirt, boned strapless top and jacket/shirt in printed cotton in cool floral colours. I could imagine it being worn by a young woman on a day trip to the seaside. Layed out on the floor were examples of swimwear through the ages; from an 1885 bathing suit to more retro examples from the 50’s including a floral fitted top and knicker combo and modern pieces. Other outfits showcased in this section included Tennis dresses from 1933 and 1905, promenade and tea dresses.
|1950's Cotton Horrockses Dress and Floral Suit|
|Close up of the dress and Jacket of a 1950's Floral Suit. Very chic and modern.|
|1950's Peplum Bathing Top and Knickers|
|1885 Bathing Suit|
In the other half of the case were some stunning examples of evening glamour and in turn evidence that dressing for dinner was a much bigger affair in the past. Two standout pieces are an 1878 gown with a sumptuous bustle, clearly a piece to show her status, with its intricate details of pleating and ruffles. The catalogue informs us this level of detail in dress became more popular at this time due to greater access to sewing machines. The other stand out piece for me was a bronze silk satin 1910 dress in the style of those by Paul Poiret. The waist is so tiny; it’s amazing to think how small people were over 100 years ago. Another beautiful outfit was a 1925 ensemble intended for going out to dinner. The sparkling lime green dress and plush fur coat projecting notions of wealth and luxury, she was clearly an important lady of society! In comparison to these pieces though, the examples of modern dinner dress are nowhere near as flamboyant: represented in 90’s formal evening and early 2000’s cruise wear. Like in the 20’s modern styles still have a sparkle but are much more casual silhouettes, with loose smocks, blouses, skirts and jackets.The third case is devoted to clothes suitable for entertaining; be that afternoon tea, a dinner party, or formal soiree. Particularly standout pieces were an 1840’s cotton dress, usually worn at a dinner with friends. The pleating on the v shaped neckline was exquisitely precise along with the pipped waist seam and cartridge pleating. Perhaps the most understated piece in the case, it stands out for its technical details.
|1911 Paul Poiret Style Bronze Dress|
|Detail of Paul Poiret Style Dress|
|1878 Gown with pleated bustle. Background examples of 1990's cruise wear|
|1925 Opera Ensemble with fur coat and lime green beaded dress|
|Exquisite Pleating on an 1840's cotton tea dress|
In contrast there are plenty of luxurious beaded creations: including a splendid 20’s cocktail dress with gold satiny shawl, oozing sensual decadence its rich colours evocative of the Art Deco art movement. While another has a royal connection; a black velvet and sequin gown (c.1900) worn by Marie Corelli, the Price of Wales (Edward VII) favourite author. One of my favourites was a simple blue and white polka dot nylon dress worn with a white fur jacket, the nylon fabric would have made it easier to pack as it doesn’t crease easily. The link between travel and clothes is again demonstrated in this final case of clothes worn for the most important occasions, in turn tying the whole exhibition together. This was communicated rather innovatively in the last object in the exhibition. A gold and cream 1886 dress constructed in two parts of bodice and skirt a new invention at the time which made it easier to pack a lady’s dresses and would then be worn at a country house dinner. It showcased how fashion for festivities has always been designed with frivolity and function in mind.
|1920's Art Deco style Cocktail Dress|
|Evening Dress worn by Marie Corelli (c.1900)|
|Blue nylon Polka Dot dress with fur jacket|
|1886 Country House evening dress with separate bodice and skirt|
To conclude a clever exhibition that showcases some lovely examples of fashions through the ages from high fashion to the everyday and in turn through the sartorial depictions reflects how travel, tastes and activities have changed and developed alongside.
Fox, J., Totnes Fashion and Textile Museum 2017. High Days and Holidays. 16th May - 29th September 2017. Totnes: Totnes Fashion ad Textile Museum.