Thursday, 21 January 2010

Bath Fashion Museum

On our first morning in Bath we set out to find the tourist area. I’m aware that one is supposed to be a ‘traveller’ not a ‘tourist’ these days; though ‘traveller’ here in Britain means Gypsy community in wagons with horses, no less, and has bad connotations throughout Europe, I gather. Be that as it may, we had 4 nights and 3 days to spend, so tourists we were.

We initially missed the tourist area by a wide mark due to avoiding icy paths,
using a limited map and Bill’s rule about not asking directions. I did point out that a lot of people seemed to be going a particular way, but Bill said they were just going to Homebase. Our excursion took us up a steep hillside and back down, through many a street full of elegant, prosperous looking stone houses. The next morning, armed with another map, we went past Homebase like everyone else and got to the city centre in 10 minutes instead of an hour or so. Never mind, walking is good exercise.

The first place we went in was the Fashion Museum (formerly the Museum of Costume), which was in the Old Assembly Rooms. these will have been the social gathering place for certain people in Georgian times. I count myself very fortunate that Bill doesn’t mind looking at this sort of stuff. In fact, I think he has quite a good eye and if he said he liked something on display, I usually found it worth my while to have a second look. There were a reasonable number of men’s outfits on display and he had a good laugh at some of the stuff he wore in ‘his day’ – 60s/70s, I think. You'll no doubt recognise this dress:

Photographs without flash were permitted, but because of the glass cases many didn’t turn out well. After the relatively modern clothes from my life time (that's modern, OK?), the more historical displays began with some exquisitely feminine underclothing, camisoles and chemises and the like, from the turn of the last century.

Then there was a wall of gloves, the oldest of which were 400 years old, about the time Shakespeare was alive. The rich embroidery on the part around the wrist was tiny and detailed, small works of art, really. Turns out that ‘gauntlet’ can refer either to that wide cuff alone or to a whole glove, so one doesn’t have to deconstruct one’s glove to throw just part down. Though peoples’ fingers were no longer than they are today, the fingers of these gloves were very long. This was, like the practice of growing disgustingly long finger nails or wearing stupidly high heels, to demonstrate that the wearer did no manual work.

There was a room of dresses going back a couple of hundred years, placed along side of artifacts from the same period. I wasn’t that interested in the long full gowns with the odd silhouettes, but it was interesting to learn that the shape and weight of drinking glasses as we know them today was established during Elizabethan times. Before then, much heavier glasses were used; however, the levy of a tax on glass by weight changed the design to that of much like the present day.

Another thing I learned was about the Regency period, when empire waist dresses were fashionable and Jane Austen was writing. It ties in slightly with American history in that it is to do with the reign of King George III, during which the American Revolution took place. It is called the Regency period because George III was finally declared mad in 1811 and his son, George IV (what else?) ruled as regent until his father's death in 1820.

Though the Regency dresses had lots of interesting design details I was really interested in the dresses from the 20s and 30s. In fact, I liked looking at anything that had vertical lines and upper body interest.

This black lace evening dress with ribbon decoration from 1925 was my one of my two favourites. In trying to make out the name of the designer (Boue Soeurs, Paris) from my blurred photo, I discovered yet another museum I can see I'll be spending online time at. Just in case you are wondering, the dramatic gold dress is by Bruce Oldfield. We saw one of his exhibits years ago at the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle. I was amazed to learn that he was a Barnado's baby.

My other favourite was this knit outfit that appears to include a top a skirt, and some sort of cape; though it might have been a camisole and a long-sleeved garment, it was really hard to tell. I loved the detail at the shoulder and neckline. Unfortunately I was on overload by then and didn't get the name of the designer.

The only had two Vionnet dresses on display. They were lovely, but were some of her later work with a different silhouette than I've seen in the past. I think the Vionnet dresses shown in this Threads magazine article are far more interesting.

In addition to the clothing displays, the building itself was magnificent. The grand rooms were stock full of chandeliers (some of which were being cleaned) and large fireplaces.

We finished our visit with tea and a bun from the museum café, an impressive room in itself. More specifically, Bill selected a Bath bun and I followed suit. It was about the size of a hamburger bun, with a dimple in the centre, but the bread was slightly sweet. It was topped with raisins and a sprinkling of ‘rock’ sugar, some of which gathered in the dimple. I bit into a lump of solid sugar and I’m sure I made the face most people would if they’d bitten into a lemon. I am not a fan of sugar and therefore cannot recommend a Bath bun.

However, I would definitely recommend Bath's Fashion Museum!


FB @ said...

Those gloves ARE exquisite!

And that Jennifer Lopez dress was definitely a first..

Frugal Scholar said...

Oh, I've always wanted to go to Bath! You are so lucky to live in England. Thanks for the great pics and discussion.