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From the costume collection……..

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The museum has a small, but interesting, collection of costume. A few of the highlights are on display in the first floor museum galleries. The remainder of the collection is held in our off-site store, and is currently being catalogued, photographed and re-boxed by one of our dedicated volunteers – Thank you Anne!

The photograph below shows a detail of a bodice from the 1890s. It is made of a stiff black brocaded material and the ¾ length sleeves are decorated with elegant jet or black glass beads. The large sleeves and tiny waist are typical of the style of this period. The waist measurements are incredibly only 16 to 18 inches . The colour and beading suggest that it may have been part of a mourning ensemble.  It has definitely been worn – and this is one of the nicest things about it – because drops of candle wax are visible on the front,  if you look very closely.

The bodice is particularly difficult to photograph because of the colour, but we love this image by our museum photographer Sarah, of Sarah Stephens Photography. If you want to have a look at it in more detail, it is now on display in the first floor galleries.

Detail of the sleeve

We change the costume displays in the permanent galleries regularly. This gives items a rest from display, protects them from long term light damage, whilst allowing us to show you something new. A few years ago we made changes to the displays, removing an 1840s wedding dress, our mutton sleeved pink satin 1890s bodice and another black bodice, putting them back into store and bringing out the black bodice described above, a 1930s gentleman’s hunting pinks, which once belonged to Major Gosling of Hassobury House and a beautiful cream silk day dress from 1916. The image below shows the new costume about to replace the costumes on display. The costumes being returned to store are visible, still in the cases, in the background.

Changing the costume displays

Costume mounting is a challenge, especially as historic costume shapes and sizes are very different to modern ones. We have to have conservation grade mannequins and adapt them to the older shapes.

Making arms for a mannequin

Has this blog has caught your interest, do you love the history of fashion, are you interested in volunteering with museum collections? Why not contact us, as Anne needs help with the costume collection and we are looking for a new volunteer. You can contact us by phone on 01279 710204 or by e-mail at

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