If you’ve had a look around my blog, you will have noticed how much I enjoy spending time at the museum. A quiet place to submerge yourself in your thoughts and a variety of stories told through all sorts of artifacts.
Good for me that Glasgow has so many museums and exhibitions on offer and when Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery announced their new exhibition, ‘A Century of Style’, I knew I had to see it. With no long term displays of any costume collection in the museums around the city and no dedicated exhibition for fashion to my knowledge in the central belt, this was a fantastic opportunity to dive into the city’s history in dressmaking and see some outstanding and – unfortunately – rarely shown gowns.
While the exhibition unites pieces from Glasgow Museum’s collection, reaching from womenswear and menswear to children’s clothing and a variety of accessories, it makes a point of not dividing the clothing by time period. Instead, they are divided by colours and each garment receives a plaque with information on its materials and creation.
Quite fittingly, the titel ‘A Century of Style’ is complemented with ‘Costume and Colour’, which is shown to play a big part in everyday life of the time. The exhibition starts with black and grey clothing, moving to browns, embroideries, then purples, blues, reds and pinks, before ending with white dresses from a variety of decades. As someone quite enthusiastic about colour coordination, this was incredibly exciting!
Alas, colour wasn’t just about standing out in the crowd, it signified many things. Not just rank but also a woman’s position in life – whether she was married or even a widow. Explanations of such instances were complimented with mourning jewellery and mementos popular during the era.
Yet, what would the exhibition be without revealing the stories of some of the people who wore these clothes and the city that played a crucial role in creating them? Once again, the museum puts emphasis on weaving information (see what I did there?) on Glaswegian department stores as well as dressmakers into the fabric of the lives of people whose families gifted the clothes to the museum in the end.
You find out that, at the time these dresses were in fashion, Glasgow, along with other parts of the country, was crucial in textile manufacturing and retailing the finished products. As you follow the exhibition, you start to see the differences between dresses that are only a decade or two apart. With industrialisation introducing automated sewing machines, new dyes and more, fashion could become more changeable and – of course – affordable.
So there we have it, an exhibition uniting delicate handmade gowns and elaborate woven silks and shawls, from simpler day dresses to opulent evening gowns.
With most dresses being lined along the walls of the rooms, it is ensured that you can catch all the details by installing large mirrors behind them. Some of the more intricate dresses are even set up to rotate, so you can really catch all the small details, from prints to tassles and small beads.
A favourite story of mine was certainly the feather fan that can not only be seen in one of the glass cases at the exhibition but also as it was worn by its former owner in a portrait right next to it.
What very much fascinates me is the history of fashion and the quick succession of inventions and social change from the 1800s onwards. In a nutshell, I’m a sucker for everything Regency and Victorian. To me these eras have a very special appeal, not just the radical social change but also their meaning in showcasing people’s position in life. Especially for Scotland, this was a crucial time, and you can read more about the time’s influence on the country’s development here
Do you enjoy costume exhibitions or fashion history as much as I do? Don’t miss ‘A Century of Style’ then, it’s on until the 14th of February at Kelvingrove
See you around,
Kelvingrove’s ‘A Century of Style: Costume and Colour 1800 – 1899’ is on from the 25th of September 2015 until the 14th of February 2016 in the special exhibition rooms at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum.
Opening times for the museum are 10am to 5pm every day and you can get tickets at the museum or online. Tickets are £5 | Concessions £3