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Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Women Fashion Power Exhibition at the Design Museum.

One of the March meetups of the club was a visit to this exhibition, which runs until 26 April 2015.  If you want a chance to look at garments from the late 1800's to the present day and see what women in prominent positions in various walks of life choose to wear currently then this is for you.
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.
And look at the heels!
Moving on to the 1930's the exhibition showed clothes that we might consider wearing  now.  These, as the tag shows, were Elsa Schiaparelli's own.  Wow, what a colour!
  This is a home made outfit for casual wear at a resort, a jacket and what they called "beach pyjamas" but seemed to me rather like a loose-legged version of the cat suit hack in the new Sewing Bee book "Fashion with Fabric".  I love the fabric pattern of the jacket and the way it is applied as a trim.  The simple jacket shape really allows the fabric to take centre stage
Now patterns became much more easily available and, in the 1930's and 40's, were sometimes linked to clothes seen on Hollywood actresses.  I would really like to sew the Ginger Rogers outfit below.

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.

Thus I tended to concentrate on details that interested me such as the cuffs, ruffles and buttons of this Vivienne Westwood outfit.
And the trim on this power suit by Thierry Mugler
But I was electrified by the Philip Treacy hats.

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.
Erin went for a black silk dress by Zambesi with a green silk jacket by Merchant Archive from the wardrobe of Anna Jones, CEO of Hearst magazines UK.
Tasha went for a cream wrap dress, there was no label for this one, from the wardrobe of Shami Chakrabarti, Director of the organisation Liberty.  There is a front and back view.

And I eventually decided on a wrap coat from the wardrobe of Jiang Qiong'er, CEO of Shang Xia.    There are  no seams on this coat and it is created from Monologian cashmere by felting.
It is interesting that we all went for simple, fairly minimalist styles  and not items such as Lady Gaga's dress made, chiefly, from black polythene bags.  Who would have thought that rubbish bags could be used to create a gown like this?

There is lots more to see so why not go yourself before it closes next month.


  1. Those are very beautiful photos! They make me want to go see this exhibition now, thanks so much for posting!

    Those shoe heels, cuff ruffles, cream wrap dress and the hot pink top! Gorgeous.

  2. How I loved Vivienne Westwood and that crazy little shop at World's End. I bought a huge floppy print pirate shirt there in 1981 and wore it all the time as a top, a dress...even with a pirate coat for parties...then like an idiot I left it behind in a flat I didn't want to go back to...memories of a mis-spent youth come flooding back!

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