Anyone who gasped at the corset making challenge on the Great British Sewing Bee will be intrigued by the corsets shown at the beginning of the exhibition.
This exquisite example of 1895 has a ventilated mid section with no fabric between the boning there. It makes one realise that fashionable women of this era felt it necessary to wear corsets all the time, even in the hottest weather. There were further examples of underwear, showing the evolution up to the Lycra girdle, throughout the exhibition.
In the late 19th century some upper class women had begun to rebel against the high fashion tyranny of layers of heavy, voluminous clothing that restricted their movement and ability to lead an active life as revealed in the advent of the Rational Dress Reform and the Aesthetic Movements. Their simpler styles did not require the abandonment of beautiful detail as seen in the smocking used to shape this dress of the late 1800's.
However videos show that World War I catapulted the changes ahead as the lack of men at home meant women of all classes undertook types of work never open to them before that were previously the preserve of men and which required them to wear appropriate clothing, even trousers.
The following decade, the 1920's, seem to me to be one of the happiest times for the home dressmaker with garments being of a simple cut and loose fit and sewing machines being available.But, as members who have attended some of our special costume archive visits will know, for evening you could go berserk with beading. Even shoes followed the trend.
World War II made a difference to style but home sewers came into their own, particularly in this country with the difficulty in obtaining fabric meaning that one had to find ingenious ways of saving on fabric and creating new clothes out of old ones. Below you see a trend for exaggerated shoulders, as though wearing military epaulettes, making the waist appear smaller although not as small as the drawing below seems to indicate it would be.
With the end of the war I had expected that we would see some "New Look" clothing on display but what you get is videos of clothes being modeled. What I enjoyed next was these great skirts. Don't they make you want to Rock and Roll?
I am afraid my interest flagged a bit here because the exhibition continued with fashions going up to the present day that are within my own memory, including these by Pierre Cardin and Andre Courreges.
I enjoyed perusing the fashion choices of contemporary women and decided to ask the members who came what they would chose from that section so here are their choices.
Jennifer chose a Prada cream satin cape from the wardrobe of Dame Zaha Hadid.
There is lots more to see so why not go yourself before it closes next month.