The gallery of english costume
The gallery of english costume
In July 1947 Platt Hall was re-opened as a Gallery of English Costume—the first institution in this country to be solely concerned with the history of that art.
The Hall, a red-brick Georgian mansion completed in 1764, had been the home of the Worsley and Carrill-Worsley families until its purchase by Manchester Corporation in 1908. Two years later the estate was opened as a public park, but not until 1925 did the house come under the control of the Art Galleries Committee. From 1927 to 1939 Platt Hall was in use as one of the city’s branch art galleries; during the war it was requisitioned. Before it was reopened, the vast collection of Englishwomen’s costume formed by Dr. C. Willett Cunnington was acquired for the city, mainly through public subscription, and it was decided to devote the whole building to its present purpose.
With the Cunnington collection added to the smaller collection of costume already belonging to the city, the new gallery contained some 1,100 complete dresses, about 2,000 dress accessories, an extensive library of early fashion plates and journals as well as other books on costume, and about 15,000 photographs illustrating English costume since the beginnings of photography.
This picture is intended as an introduction to the gallery and the collection. The notes which follow the illustrations indicate only the more important changes in style between 1770 and 1937, but further books in this series will each deal more thoroughly with a particular period or aspect of costume.
This book could not have been made without much help. The Committee wishes to record its thanks to all the friends of the gallery who brought life back to the dresses by wearing them, to the patience and understanding of Mr. C. Davies who photographed them, and to Mr. Terry McGlynn who designed the cover and layout.
David Baxandall Director, Manchester City Art Galleries.
The Gallery of English Costume was formed as a centre for the study of the art and history of costume, in the belief that such a centre could make a cultural, educational, and practical contribution to the life of the city. The function of the gallery is two-fold: the exhibition rooms cater for the general visitor, the reserve collection and library for students, specialists, and designers.
The visitor will find a chronologically arranged series of dresses from 1760 to the present day, beginning on the first floor and continued in the large western room below. Although the individual dresses which make up this display are changed from time to time, the chronological series itself is a permanent feature, showing every major change of fashion during the past 190 years.
Smaller rooms on the ground floor illustrate special aspects of costume such as hats, or wedding dresses. Here also are arranged temporary exhibitions of material drawn from the reserve collections to illustrate such subjects as clothes for sport, children’s costume, underclothes, or aids to beauty.
English Costume of more remote periods, from which few actual specimens have survived, can be studied in the gallery’s library, where a collection of photographs of portraits, memorial brasses, monuments, and other sources of information is being built up.
A gallery of costume can interest the visitor in many ways. Costume, though the least pure of the arts, has at times achieved beauty; some dresses can be accepted as works of art, and these continue to delight us.
Costume may also cause the development and perfection of other arts. All the textile arts serve it— silk, linen, wool and cotton (woven or printed with a whole history of design), lace and embroidery. All these may be seen and studied most fittingly in the completed costume, where their purpose is fulfilled.
Visitors may also find that few things so effectively evoke the reality of a past age as the actual clothes that were once worn on the living bodies of the men and women who created it. Fashion is never arbitrary; determined by the tastes, prejudices and ideals of the day, it is the most sensitive index to the spirit of its time. This accounts for the strange power that parts of the collection have of giving new reality to our contact with the literary masterpieces of the past. Here are the light muslins of the first decade of the nineteenth century which, with their curious blend of freedom and formality, seem a natural extension of the personalities of Miss Austen’s heroines (Plates 2 and 4); there is a tight-laced, heavy-skirted dress with five petticoats, in which Dora Copperfield might have gone her doll-like way (Plate 8).
Because each change of fashion unconsciously expresses a change in the spirit of the time, the collection makes visible much of our social history. The Reform Act of 1832 and the contemporary development of both men’s and women’s clothing are expressions of the same social change. The long struggle for the emancipation of women is recorded in the costume of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The slow victories of democracy are marked by each assumption of garment or material from more privileged wardrobes.
When surviving specimens of costume are studied in the same way as other material evidence of civilization, costume takes its place as part of the fabric of English history. It is as a centre for such study that the Gallery of English Costume has been formed.
1 Robe of cream and green silk damask, 1770—80, brocaded in red and brown; closed bodice; skirt opening over quilted green silk underskirt, contem- porary but not original; sleeves with fan-shaped, falling cuffs.
The skirt, drawn into puffs over the hips by cords inside, gives a looser, more informal style than the stiff, wide outline of the earlier hooped skirt.
2. White muslin day dress, 1803—5, with sprigs in ^ tambour embroidery; the bodice is lined.
White muslin and lawn are now almost universal for both day and evening wear. Of fifty-four dresses in the collection from 1800—20, twenty-eight are entirely white, and half the remainder have a white ground.
3 Children’s dress followed contemporary adult fashion.
(a) Day dress, 1807, of white cotton with small pink check, bodice slightly gathered, trimmed with white lawn frilling at neck and sleeves.
(b) Party dress, 1822, of dull pink figured silk, gathered bodice with shaped collar and slashed and banded sleeves.
4 Full evening dress, 1809, of India muslin embroidered in spangles and metal thread; the train falls from the underarm seams and waist.
This gives a complete expression of the classical simplicity which is soon to give way to increasing ornament from which a new form emerges.
5 Day dress, 1824—5, of white horizontal-striped muslin, printed with trailing floral design in purplish-black; morning cap of white muslin.
Flounces at the hem give width and a new line to the skirt; the waistline has been lowered and the sleeves grow full at the shoulder.
6 Day dress, 1830, of white striped muslin printed with leaf and stem design in green, blue and puce; white lawn canezou; Leghorn hat trimmed with ribbons; green silk parasol with carved ivory handle, ferrule and ring.
The increasing width of the hem has brought about a new style; the enormous sleeves are the characteristic expression of 1828—35.
7 Day dress, 1841, of blue and white striped silk, with an alternative evening bodice; collar of white embroidered muslin; black silk mittens.
The pointed bodice, which is boned, and the skirt, thrown out from the hips, emphasize a small waist. The full sleeve has collapsed, and a tight sleeve, set low, imprisons the arm.
8 Outdoor costume, 1845, with green silk dress covered by silk shawl of Paisley manufacture in all-over design in red, green and black; bonnet of gauged mauve satin with a close brim concealing the profile; folding parasol of red and green shot silk.
9 Afternoon dress, 1855, of dark green and black figured silk; bell sleeves with fringes and ribbon bows; bodice with fringed revers ending in lappets; ornamental buttons; undersleeves and collar of white openwork embroidery.
Stronger colours now replace the delicate shades of 1840—50; skirts of heavier silk grow larger over an increasing weight of petticoats.
10 Dау dress, 1863, of yellow-checked green silk with woven pattern in green, yellow and black; bodice, fastening in front, trimmed with black lace, braid and beads; bishop sleeves; cap of net, lace and ribbons.
The dress is worn over a crinoline which has allowed increase of size without additional petticoats; the waist is slightly raised.
11 Afternoon dress, 1870—1, of corded grey silk, trimmed with ruching, bows and silk fringes; square-necked bodice fastening in front with net vest. The fullness of the skirt has now passed to the back, looped up in an overskirt and gadiered over a bustle, the last quarter of the crinoline.
12 Dinner dress, 1878, of blue cashmere and
embroidered satin. The bustle has shrunk into a few puffs produced by ties across the inside of the skirt; these also tighten die skirt round the knees and with the new sheath-like bodice give a style which impedes movement. Woollen materials and the use of different materials in the same dress are now fashionable.
13 Wedding dress, 1884, of grey poplin and white lace, with bonnet of grey silk and feathers and cream lace.
The skirt has become looser and freer in front and the increased fullness is once more draped over a bustle, narrower than that of the 1870’s. The dress was worn by a Lancashire bride.
14 Afternoon dress, 1895, of mauve silk, flecked.
I with purple; collar, cuffs, revers and belt of purple velvet.
A plain and practical form has now emerged for the skirt; ornament is concentrated in the bodice, where the sleeves, full in the upper arm, give a wide shoulder line above a tightly laced waist.
15 Afternoon dress, 1905, of mauve poplin trimmed with cream lace; skirt and short bolero worn with lace blouse with high collar.
The long flowing lines of the skirt and its trailing hem show the fashionable softening of the harder, more practical outline which had come with the 1890’s.
16 Costume dress, 1912, of grey satin with vest and high collar of net; hat of mauve straw with velvet bow.
The straight, narrow skirt, the high-waistcd jacket with deep revers and the restrained use of ornament show’ a masculine influence only partly counteracted by the unbalancing effect of the enormous hats
17 Ascot dress, 1923, of silk crepe, printed in black and orange, hat of orange georgette, trimmed with feathers and silk leaves.
During the 1914—18 war skirts had risen and become full at the hem; after 1920 the vertical lines of 1914 reappear but the high waist has now fallen to the hips.
18 Afternoon dress, 1927, of ninon, printed in black, pink and green, with pleated front panel and attached scarf; closely fitting ‘cloche’ hat of straw over short, closely cut hair.
The straight dress of 1923 shortened steadily, reaching the knee in 1927; the waistline, if marked at all, is still at the hips.
19 Dress of gold lame’ with shoulder cape, 1937, shoes to match; worn at the Coronation.
After 1929 the skirt gradually lengthened to the ground for evening wear, becoming lower, but always well above the ankle, for day wear. The waist has risen and the outline once more, at least in the evening, escapes from the long-dominant vertical line.
Bathing dress, 1886, of turquoise blue flannel trimmed with cream lace, with waterproof cap to match; sandals of canvas trimmed with scarlet