Bath’s charming Fashion Museum is always worth a wander. And there’s a large central gallery where one and all are invited to try on new identities. How does that wig fit, Sir?
In this town where Jane Austen lived and wrote in the early 1800s, there are always Jane-esque muslin gowns on display. The placard explains that in the 1780s Marie Antoinette and her ladies at Versailles wore similar gowns in their private off-duty hours. In France, these refreshingly simple dresses were called chemises de la reine: dresses of the queen. They were inspired by archaeological discoveries of the ancient world in Herculaneum and Pompeii.
By 1900, fashions had gone fancy and formal again. To appear at court, a lady had to wear a dress with a train that trailed at least three yards from her ankles–nine feet. I’d be hopeless in a getup like that, I’m afraid. I’d trip myself and anyone in a nine-foot radius.
Sailor suits for little boys were popular in Victorian times. The fashion started when the five-year-old Prince of Wales, son of Queen Victoria, wore a miniature version of a sailor’s uniform from the HMS Victory. It was the flagship of Lord Nelson at the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar.
During and after World War II, blackout cloth was about the only fabric that was not rationed. Enterprising ladies used it creatively for dresses. The one above is from 1945.
In honor of the postwar accession of Queen Elizabeth II, a little girl’s mother treated her to a homemade dress printed with scenes from the coronation.
The smocked dress features a border and collar with the coronation procession.
I lived through the 1960s, but I have to say I would not have appeared in public in a “knickerbocker dress.” Was this really a thing? Mary Quant, the swinging 60s designer, thought so, and actually sold this little number in her boutique in 1961. Not for me, thanks. I do remember wearing geometric minidresses, though.
In 2018, the Fashion Museum features a special exhibit of clothes worn by several British royal women.
The exhibit starts with Princess Alexandra, subject of a previous post.
Next is Queen Consort Mary of Teck. She was married to King George V.
Elizabeth, the mother of Queen Elizabeth II, wore this Norman Hartnell ball gown in 1954.
My favorites were the exquisite gowns worn by Princess Margaret, sister of the Queen.
The striped 1949 Dioresque gown above was designed to encourage postwar women to wear British textiles, including reasonably-priced cotton. It was the work of Norman Hartnell.
Best of show, in my opinion? Margaret’s ethereal ivory chiffon evening gown with tied bolero jacket, above.
The Fashion Museum is a bit off the beaten path in Bath, but worth the slight detour.
And did I mention that guests are invited to try on historic outfits for size?
Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe and the British Isles!