Exhibition Review-A Century of Style: Costume and Color 1800-1899

Slightly outdated but I wanted to share my thoughts on this exhibition, held at Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow from 25 September 2015-14th February 2016…

Let me start by saying that I have a deep love for Kelvingrove Museum, despite all its flaws, so when I found out that they would be hosting this exhibition I was so excited! Kelvingrove has a rather disappointingly small collection of historical garments and textiles on permanent display, so this was a welcome change. Scotland as a whole has an illustrious and significant history in textile manufacture, from the cottage industry of Harris Tweed in the Outer Hebrides to the Kashmir shawl weavers in Paisley (which I talk about briefly here) and the lace weavers of Ayrshire, textiles have formed a large part of our national identity-and that’s before even mentioning tartan! So while this exhibition wasn’t focused specifically on Scottish textiles, this investment in exploring a comparatively rapidly paced era of fashion and industrial history was very exciting!

The century in which this exhibition spans was a century of contrasts, in terms of silhouette, fabrics, textiles, and manufacturing methods. Instead of displaying the garments chronologically, the exhibition featured them by color, mixing pieces from the start of the century with pieces from the end. This was a really engaging set up, encouraging the observer to identify the key differences in the diverse range of garments.

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In this section (front to back) -Smock Dress(1883), Cape (1860-70), Dress (1870-72) and Going Away Ensemble (1899)

Featuring the garments by color also provided an opportunity to analyse the applications of color in fashion in context of the era. The most well known use of color in historical clothing is obviously black, and the exhibition covered this in great detail, explaining garments and fabrics development through the various stages of the mourning period. They also took care to give social context to the exhibit by explaining the background of the original owners of the extant garments. The bulk of the exhibit was women’s costume, probably due to the drastic aesthetic changes of the period, so color in terms of gender roles was frequently explained.

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One of the few examples of men’s costume, in the form of military uniform and hunting costume.

Whilst Scotland is renowned for its fabric, I personally hadn’t ever heard of a Glasgow dress maker or fashion house from the 19th century, so it was refreshing to see so many in this exhibit. Obviously, without the modern convenience of a polyester brand tag sewn in the back of the neck line, identifying the seamstress of a 200 year old dress is complicated, but some of the pieces-particularly towards the end of the century- were incredibly specific in terms of manufacturing. As well as the seamstresses who created the garments, several pieces identified the name and location of their former owner, really bringing the garments to life.

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Dress (1859-60) worn by Mrs Maria Hughes

During this turbulent era of social and industrial change, fashion was affected greatly by new technologies. The exhibition covers many of the main changes in technology, from the development of synthetic dyes and hooped crinolines to the invention of the commercial sewing pattern, providing articulate extant examples. Information is applied to garments non chronologically through out the exhibition, which again encourages the observer to compare items from earlier and later periods.

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A wonderful example of the more mathematical applications of pattern drafting, and the relatively new tradition for white wedding dresses! (Wedding Dress, Fraser and Sons and Co, 1883, Glasgow)

There was so much more I think I could talk about with this exhibition, but I think I’ll leave it there. They did provide examples of thoughtfully chosen undergarments and accessories as well but there was simply too much to cover there. It was a while ago now, but I thought I would do a quick review just to break up my own work, and show off the lovely pictures we were allowed to take. We had an amazing time-maybe too good since an old lady shushed us mid gushing-so if anyone else went along let me know what you thought of it!

Jenny.

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