Bath’s Fashion Museum – based at the Assembly Rooms – will be choosing ‘star objects’ from its extensive stores to shine a light on the outstanding collection of historical fashions it holds.
It’s all part of a new and focused ‘curator’s – pick’ display called Collection Stories which will open on May 17th.
There are hundreds of fascinating individual stories within the Fashion Museum collection. Collection Stories – will uncover some of the hidden narratives that make up the collection.
Each star object on display has been chosen for the story it tells and to represent each area of the Fashion Museum collection stored in the gallery. 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. 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 will be dedicated to a different element of the Fashion Museum’s collection: shawls, stoles and scarves; lace and whitework; bonnets and hats; wedding dresses; underwear; parasols and umbrellas; men’s waistcoats and hats; shoes and boots will all be on show, displayed amongst the storage boxes and acid-free tissues used to preserve them.
The Collection Stories gallery will also showcase a special space for regularly changing displays called Fashion Focus.
The first Fashion Focus display, opening in May 2019, is called Little and Large and showcases the Fashion Museum’s enchanting collection of antique “fashion” dolls displayed alongside beautiful life-size fashions from the same historical period. Dressmakers often placed fashion dolls in their windows wearing miniature versions of women’s fashions to show what they could make.
The stand out doll in Little and Large is a fashion doll from the 1870s with wax head in a plum satin and cream lace dress. The doll’s garments are very likely to be from Paris. Mrs Enid Hurst gave the doll to the museum in 1968, noting in her original letter that the doll had been in her family for five generations. Because of its age and fragility, the doll was sent in a box on a passenger train and collected by museum staff when it arrived at Bath Spa station.
* The Government’s Designation Scheme, administered by Arts Council England, recognises collections of national/international pre-eminence in non-national museums. Of c.2,500 non-national museums in the UK, only 249 contain Designated collections.
The Star Objects in Collection Stories:
- Collection: Shawls, Stoles and Scarves.
The Museum has a large collection dating from the 18th century onwards.
Star Object: A bold red plush tartan velvet stole with strawberry pink silk lining dating 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.
What makes it a star object? What the item tells us about the collection. 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”.
- Collection: Lace and Whitework Dress Accessories.
The Museum has over 2000 dress accessories made from lace and whitework.
Star Object: A pelerine collar from about 1827 with 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.
What makes it a star object? 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 1700s and 1800s. Lace was so prized that it was often removed from one garment and transferred to another.
- Collection: Hats and Bonnets
Star Object: A poke bonnet from about 1847 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.’
What makes it a star object? 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 Prouts. 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.
- Collection: Weddings dresses, nightdress and underwear.
Star Object: A stunning silk satin wedding dress with 2m long train from the 1900s displayed with its matching shoes, corset and garters. The dress was made by Mrs O’Donovan, a high-end New York dressmaker, and worn by New York socialite Emily Poor of Hackensack, New Jersey when she married Lieutenant W S Montgomery, a young naval officer, on 30 June 1900.
What makes it a star object? The wedding dress has one of the largest wedding trousseaus in the Fashion Museum collection and includes underwear, night-dresses, receipts and wedding invitations, telling us the story of its wearer, Emily Poor.
- Collection: Men’s waistcoats and hats
The Museum has a collection of about 330 men’s waistcoats and hats.
Star Object: A cream silk formal waistcoat with coloured silk embroidery in a design of purple bell-shaped flowers and red, green and brown leaves and oak leaves, made to be worn at the Court of Queen Victoria in 1850s.
What makes it a star object? 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.
- Collection: Parasols, Umbrellas and Walking Sticks.
The museum has a collection of 353 parasols, umbrellas and walking sticks.
Star Object: 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.
What makes it a star object? 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.
- Collection: Shoes and Boots.
There are over 600 pairs of shoes and boots stored in the museum’s shoes and boots case.
Star Object: Silk satin shoes decorated with glass beads, embroidery and diamantes, with Louis heels and diamante buckles 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.
What makes it a star object? 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.
Elly Summers, Collection Stories curator, said, “Collection Stories is a curators’ pick of objects in the Museum’s 19th-century collection. Each object has its own individual story to tell, with many of the objects going on display for the very first time.”
An adult ticket is £9.50 and there is 10% discount for booking online.