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Hidden treasure – another costume story

Friday, April 10, 2015

A few months ago the museum received an interesting gift of clothing from a family who had lived in Bishop’s Stortford in the early part of the 20th Century. The donation of items ranged from Edwardian children’s clothing to ladies dresses from the 1940s. One of the most interesting costumes may not appear at first to be exciting at all, but it is a hidden treasure. A jacket and skirt suit in white/cream wool with thin blue stripes, it is in poor condition, but it is an important piece for us here because, sewn into the jacket is a label, which says:

‘Miss Bruxby
Costumier
6 Bridge Street
Bishop’s Stortford’

The label identifying Miss Bruxby as the maker
The label identifying Miss Bruxby as the maker

This makes it significant beyond the condition of the suit. We know that Miss Bruxy worked as a costumier in Stortford in the Edwardina period from adverts in local trade directories and the Herts and Essex Observer. This however, is the as it is the first actual example of her work, or any of her contemporaries, that we have in the collection.

Being so small, we initially thought that it was made for a teenager, the shoulders on the jacket are very narrow and the waist on the skirt small. It is also quite short. However, this week we have begun mounting it on a mannequin for a temporary week long display in the Gallery, as part of a short revisit to our ‘Beautiful, vulnerable, Inaccessible’ exhibition – come along and see it – this week only.

Whilst preparing the costume for display we were forced to ask new questions. It became clear that the jacket – in much poorer condition than the skirt, had been given a replacement button at some point in its life. This however was not what surprised us. Whilst the shoulders of the jacket were very narrow, and the back seams suggested a narrow silhouette, the front of the jacket was huge, completely out of proportion with the rest of the outfit. It became clear that this suit may well have been of the ‘S’ bend style, popular in the Edwardian period, where a woman’s shape is pushed into an incredibly un-natural position by heavy corsetry. In fact if the costume was on display for longer, we would need to purchase a specifically shaped mannequin as it is impossible to mount such costume on ‘normal’ shaped mannequins.

Examples of Edwardian fashionable figures
Examples of Edwardian fashionable figures

Even so, this would be an extreme example as far as we can see, so we are still not certain if this solves the mystery of the Miss Bruxby made suit.

 

 




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