One of my favourite things to do on a rainy day (aside from sewing and watching my way through the Netflix catalogue in my pjs, obviously) is visiting a museum or two. So on the rather grey and wet Bank Holiday Monday last week I headed to Bath to have a look around the Bath Fashion Museum, where there were no less than three superb exhibitions on show that I’ve been wanting to see for a while.
Our first stop was the Great War in Costume exhibit, focusing on the dramatic changes to women’s lives and roles that took place during World War I. For the first time, women were required to do men’s work and fashion evolved accordingly. Restrictive corsets, elaborate dresses and dainty shoes were impractical for their new roles, so functional trousers and hard-wearing boots were introduced to women’s wardrobes to reflect their new (albeit not entirely accepted by some) status as a part of the workforce. The exhibition featured both work and civilian dress, memorabilia and propaganda, as well as some absolutely stunning costumes from Downton Abbey. It must be so lovely to be an actor and get to wear all those lovely outfits for work. Sigh.
The exhibition has finished, but no doubt there will be another equally fantastic one to take its place soon – there is also so much to see in the rest of the museum.
We then moved onto the Georgians exhibition, which is running throughout 2014. There is surely no better location for such a display than the Bath Assembly Rooms, where outfits like those on show would have been worn by upper-class folk in polite society during the 18th Century.
One of the most interesting things about the exhibition was seeing how much fashions changed across the time period – just like today, fashions evolved year on year (although obviously nowhere near as quickly as they do now thanks to the likes of Primark et al).
It can be easy to view this time period as all bustles and corsets, but fashionable silhouettes changed significantly over these years – arguably, in fact, in a more noticable way than they do now, as they had all manner of structuring undergarments at their disposal. These included the rather comical panniers, cage supports for extremely wide-skirted court dresses that I think are one of the most impractical items of clothing I’ve ever come across. Many were so wide that the wearer would surely have had to walk through doors sideways – I can’t even imagine what trying to sit down in one of those things would have been like! I also loved the display of Georgian-inspired modern clothes, including a showstopping dress by one of my favourite designers, Vivienne Westwood.
While I won’t be sewing up a super-wide dress any time soon, there was still plenty of dressmaking inspiration to be found – the Georgians certainly knew how to work a floral print and embroidery.
Nearly a year ago (how time flies!) I posted about the Glamour of Bellville Sassoon exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to see it, but luckily for me the Bath museum has a smaller version on display at the moment.
The 25 evening dresses on show have been assembled by Mr Sassoon, and each one has been kept across the years by Bellville Sassoon’s clientele and borrowed back especially for the display. The centrepiece of the exhibition is three ensembles worn by Princess Diana, including the going-away outfit worn on her wedding day.
I always look forward to seeing the latest Dress of the Year. In a nod to the ever-increasing influence of fashion bloggers, the 2013 dress was chosen by Susie Bubble. A candy pink number from the Christopher Kane Spring/Summer collection, the dress features a perfectly balanced combination of delicate detailing and edginess.
Susannah Lau said: ‘I chose Christopher Kane’s dress because, to me, he is one of the most exciting and brilliant designers to have emerged from London Fashion Week. He manages to take the most unexpected elements and make them work in collections that then define seasons. The Spring/Summer 2013 season saw Kane take on Frankenstein –crystals, black gaffer tape and white lace shouldn’t sit well with one another but the juxtaposition somehow come off as harmonious.
To accompany the dress I have also chosen young accessories designers who have also contributed to London ‘s rise – unconventional milliner Nasir Mazhar who has segued into street-inspired ready to wear and quirky shoe designer Sophia Webster.’
As we got a joint ticket for both museums, we also visited the beautiful Roman Baths, which looked simply stunning in the late afternoon light.