A Thousand Fancies….

The power of objects to inspire a thousand fancies
Charles Paget Wade

Charles Paget Wade, a poet, architect, artist-craftsman and not forgetting keen collector of eclectic objects, to inspire.

This collection can be seen at Snowshill Manor, which Wade gave to the National Trust in 1951. The collection of course would not be complete without costume (2,200 items of 18th to 20th century to be precise) which is stored at Berrington Hall. The collection is cared for by Althea Mackenzie, Costume Curator.

This year Berrington Hall is bringing to life the Georgian interiors of the Hall by displaying costume, from The Charles Paget Wade Collection, Hereford Museum Resource and Learning Centre and COSPROP (costume from The Duchess and 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice).

The displays shall enchant visitors by taking them on a journey, peeping into the lives and fashion of Georgian society.

Over the course of the year there will be an array of costume from The Charles Paget Wade Collection and costumes worn in Pride and Prejudice (1995) British television period drama and the film The Duchess (2008).

Pride and Prejudice was filmed at various locations including Lyme Park (exterior of Pemberley, Darcy’s estate in Derbyshire) and Sudbury Hall (interiors) both owned by the National Trust.

The Duchess was filmed at locations such as Chastworth House, Bath (including the Assembly Rooms and Royal Crescent) and Clandon Park.

The Duchess, a selected display of costumes from The Duchess (2008), includes the wedding dress worn by Keria Knightly on until 30th June 2014, costumes from COSPROP, Holloway Road.

‘Wearing The Garden’ looks at Georgian men’s fashion. The influence of gardens on fashion reveals an extravagant display of stunning waistcoats with embellished woven silk brocades. This exhibition will feature costumes from The Charles Paget Wade Collection and Hereford Museum Resources and Learning Centre on until 30th June 2014.

‘Big Bottoms and Small Waist’ reveals a display of undergarments through the centuries. This exhibition will feature undergarments from The Charles Paget Wade Collection and Hereford Museum Resources and Learning Centre on display from 1st July until 31st August 2014.

‘Pride and Prejudice’ a selection of costumes and accessories worn during filming of Pride and Prejudice in 1995. On display from 1st August until 31st October 2014, costumes from COSPROP, Holloway Road.

If you want to see if costume can inspire a thousand fancies, why not make a visit to Berrington Hall or see the blog featuring The Charles Paget Wade Collection written by Ellie Jones, Conservation and Engagement Manager.

I certainly felt inspired by my visit! What will inspire you today?

This post was written in collaboration with Ellie Jones, Conservation and Engagement Manager at Berrington Hall.  If you are interested in writing a post in collaboration with the author of Textile and Dress Historian please email textileanddresshistorian@gmail.com.

Dressing Or Dressing Up!

Accessories appeared for the first time when primitive man found his most satisfying expression in the use of body painting and tattooing, added to this his desire for ornamentation – rings dangling from ears, chains around his neck, and perhaps a feather or two in his hair.

The earliest articles of adornment reveal ornaments used on different parts of the body, and interestingly the location for these objects were places where objects seemed to fit naturally.

The parts of the body destined to display ornaments are those areas that are contracted or of a narrower portion above large bony or muscular structure – the forehead and temples, the neck and shoulders, the waist and hips, above and below the knee, the ankles, the upper arms, the wrist, and to a lesser degree, the fingers.

Feathers need little preparation for man’s use and the system of mounting them is very simple. Some years later, body covering or clothing came to be worn. Accessory articles appeared for the head, neck, shoulder, waist, legs and arms. Today we know these accessories as modern hats, bonnets, shawls, belts, girdles, shoes, bracelets and so forth.

The idea of accessories has developed and changed over the years, today when thinking about accessories ‘dressing up’ comes to mind. Accessories can ‘dress up’ an outfit by creating a focal point to an otherwise ordinary outfit. Accessories play a key role as they adorn the body and enhance our appearance.

Over the years accessories have changed to complement the every changing style in fashion.

The history of the mask is one of surprising interest. Nearly every race has found some use for the mask. Perhaps the painted face of a primitive warrior inspired the first mask.

Accessories are items which stand alone and with the right ensemble complete an outfit.  A minority of accessories have no function but to look aesthetically pleasing. A classic example would be: a bracelet or brooch. A bracelet sits on the wrist and its only purpose is to glisten in the light and attract attention. The sample principle would apply to a brooch. It is attached to a jumper or jacket with a pin, however; it does not hold the jacket in place as it is only a form of decoration.

Hat-pins do have a function: they hold a hat in the correct position and stop it from falling off. On the contrary, a hat ornament has no function at all. Although a hat ornament remains tied to a form of necessity, etiquette and formality, which is distinguished from the use of a hatpin. The use of a hat ornament allowed a lady of ‘the leisure class’ or wealth the ability to distinguish herself from other social classes.

Is an accessory an object or could it be an extension of our personality?

Sophisticated Selfridge

Yesterday evening the winter waiting was over. Our TV’s saw the delights of the opening episode of the second series of Mr Selfridge on ITV One.

We find ourselves in 1914. On the one hand World War I is about to begin and on the other Selfridges is celebrating its 5th anniversary.

The glamour of perfume and cosmetics appear to have found a place in the store. However fear not, the classic accessory of gloves is still to be seen adorning many a female hand and gentlemen or too, including Harry Gordon Selfridge.

The fashion of 1914 takes us from the rigid Victorian era where corsets were tightly laced to the Edwardian era where fashions loosen up towards a modern style.

Let’s step back in time for a moment. Harry Gordon Selfridge born during 1858 in Wisconsin, United States. In 1890 at the age of 32, Harry married Rosalie Buckingham. During 1906 Harry and Rosaile made a visit to England which would change their lives forever.

On his travels Harry noted that stores in London had not adopted the ideas that stores used in the United States. This encouraged Harry Gordon Selfridge to travel across the ocean from Chicago to England to open a store in London in 1909.  A store that would revolutionise the idea of buying goods. To make a spectacle of shopping, a sense of theatre by luring potential customers into the store to peer upon the most beautiful displays.

Selfridges is still flourishing today after 105 years!

Sunday Best, In Vogue Dress or Made to Measure?


A trip to Brussels for my school friend’s wedding, consisting of many cultural traditions, got me thinking about the history of the white wedding dress.

A wedding is full of joy and happiness. There is the leading lady, a beautiful bride, supported by the gorgeous groom who is surrounded by family and friends. The groom waits with anticipation of a glimpse of his wife to be. The show stopping dress hidden from eye becomes a spectacle.

What to wear on your special day – Sunday best, in vogue dress or made to measure?

The white wedding dress has been credited to Queen Victoria, yet her dress wasn’t actually white at all. Victoria’s wedding to Albert was on the 10th February, 1840. She wore a bodice and skirt of plain cream silk with a spectacular lace veil and skirt flounce.

Queen Victoria and Albert
Queen Victoria and Albert

The official portrait (photograph) of Victoria and Albert on their wedding day, gave inspiration to many other brides to opt for a similar dress in honour of the Queen’s choice.

Prior to the Victorian era, a bride was married in any colour, black being especially popular in Scandinavia. Later, many people assumed that the colour white was intended to symbolize virginity, though this had not been the original intention. It was the colour blue that was connected to purity. The white gown is in fact a symbolic Christening gown.

Today, Western wedding dresses are usually white though “wedding white” includes creamy shades such as eggshell and ivory.

Wedding Gowns
Wedding Gowns

In accordance with the modest fashions of the time, early 19th century wedding dresses would always be floor length, and would often have long sleeves and a high neckline. The dress would often be a two-part outfit, with a separate skirt and bodice, especially for poorer brides who would want to be able to reuse their bridal dress for other formal occasions.

Wedding Dresses Through The Ages
Wedding Dresses Through The Ages

Up until the late 1930s, wedding dresses reflected the styles of the day. From that time onward, wedding dresses have traditionally been based on Victorian styles.

A Palace or A Prison?

‘Even a palace can seem like a prison’,
these words were spoken by Emily Blunt in the film, The Young Victoria (2009).

Some how these words got me thinking about the life of a king or queen to be. What is life really like – a want for nothing or a longing for a moment’s peace?

Victoria (1819-1901) was only 18 when she became queen, in 1837.  Elizabeth II (1926- ) was 26 when she became queen, in 1952. Elizabeth and Victoria are two sovereigns, in history to date, to celebrate a Diamond Jubilee. Elizabeth celebrated 60 years on the throne in 2012 and Victoria back in 1897.

Victoria married her first cousin Prince Albert (1819-1861), of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, in 1840. Later in life, 1857, he was known as The Prince Consort. During their short time together they had 9 children: Victoria, Albert, Edward, Alice, Alfred, Helena, Louise, Arthur, Leopold and Beatrice. After Albert’s death in 1861 Victoria removed herself from public life. In the public eye Victoria was our queen, but behind closed doors she was just a person like everyone else with feelings and emotions. She had lost her one love, Albert. This is why it came as no surprise that she remained in mourning for the rest of her life until her death on 22nd January 1901.

A visit to Kensington Palace to see where Victoria was born, where she lived during her childhood and early adult life, feels like stepping back in time. Walking amongst the rooms and corridors, as she did once, I try to imagine how a beautiful palace could seem like a prison.

Kensington palace set in the most beautiful Kensington gardens. It has been in the British Royal family since the 17th Century. It is noted as one of the favoured homes for kings and queens in Britain. It would seem that William III (1689-1702) and Mary II (1689-94) were the first royal residents of Kensington House, as it was known then. They moved in just before Christmas in 1689.

Young Victoria
Young Victoria

Victoria was born at Kensington Palace. She then began life as a young princess perhaps unaware of her role in life to come. On June 20th 1837 she was woken early in the morning to the news of her accession to the throne. Her uncle William IV had died, and she was next in line to the throne. She moved to Buckingham Palace and served her country for 63 years until her death.

‘Victoria Revealed’, tells the story of a little girl who became queen at only 18. She held her first Privy Council meeting in Kensington Palace’s Red Saloon, wearing the gown pictured above.

Follow Victoria’s story from the room in which she spent her first moments as queen. Trace her journey from young girl to queen enthralled with a new husband, to grieving matriarch and ruler of a vast empire.

The exhibition includes iconic, impressive, beautiful and often deeply personal objects, from Victoria’s simple white silk wedding gown, to the dolls she made, dressed and named as a little girl.

The collection of costume on display is simply stunning. A Palace, perfect for a Princess!

Objects Of Desire

A Fusion of Vintage and Contemporary Fashion

Vintage Shoes
Vintage Shoes

Fashion is one of the great living arts of civilization and self-decoration one of the fundamental human urges. Professor Janey Ironside.

When I first heard this title for the latest fashion exhibition at Killerton House I was intrigued.  What could make an object desirable? Is it a desire to possess an object or to be captivated by it, to adorn it?

How do you describe an ‘object’ in relation to fashion? A dress bought to wear, a hat given as a gift, a hand-me-down top or bag woven with memories?

Thinking about desire and fashion where do we begin? Is it that must have feeling?  A longing to buy that dress you cannot afford or just an Audrey Hepburn moment, Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

How would fashion be displayed to engage an audience of spectators? Hidden from view, behind a glass bubble? Perhaps, a spectacle of fashion not used in everyday life?

Display Of Shoes
Display Of Shoes

In order to reveal the mystery I indulged myself, I became a spectator. My visit was made extra special by knowing the Costume Curator, Shelley Tobin. They do say it’s not what you know, but who! In fact, I was lucky enough to grab some of Shelley’s time for a personal tour of the exhibition.

A group of evening and cocktail gowns from the Killerton collection includes designs by Hartnell and Molyneux.

When I asked Shelley, why ‘Objects of Desire’? This was her response:

The exhibition took that aspirational passion for fashion as a starting point, the excitement and inspiration you might get from flicking through a glossy magazine or pressing your nose up against an expensive shop window-you know you can’t afford it, it’s maybe just out of reach, but it is the ultimate object of desire-something to aim for.  We also wanted to mix up the period clothing with something new, showing how both ideas and silhouetted could be ‘recycled’ in the design, as well as the upcycling of fabrics and old garments. These days, with the wearing of actual vintage garments having become so popular, people can imagine wearing some of the pieces in the collection themselves.

The exhibition explores the timeless desirability of luxurious vintage fashion and accessories from the 20th century and highlights the ultimate in designer and couture dress. Designed and guest curated by renowned interior designer Russell Sage.

Jacket created from a flag, designed by Russell Sage. Shelley’s thoughts on working with Russell Sage:

Russell’s vision has brought together some of the most luxurious ‘vintage’ couture and ready to wear pieces from the collection with a selection of high fashion clothes from the recent archives of contemporary designers. Here upmarket fashion of the 1920s to the 1970s collides with fashion’s new direction as represented by young cutting edge designers working in Britain today. As well as bringing a sense of the London catwalks to Killerton, Russell has chosen a series of films illustrating the close links between contemporary art, fashion and film-making.  The exhibition has also given us the chance to work with the University of Falmouth. The display has evolved as seven pairs of second-year students from the Fashion and Sports Performance Wear courses have created new garments from vintage furnishing textiles, echoing Russell’s own work incorporating furnishing fabrics in the early 2000s, and the late eighteenth century gown from our own collections remade from embroidered bed-hangings of about 1700.

Late Eighteenth Century Costume
Late Eighteenth Century Costume

Student Volunteer, Julia, with her favourite exhibit, the ‘up cycled’ late eighteenth Century costume which has been made from an early eighteenth century bed-hanging.

A catwalk of new designs made from furnishings by Falmouth students and contemporary fashion.

Make sure you find the time to ‘desire’ to see it!

There’s a chance to see more at the monthly Focus on Fashion events hosted by Shelley. Killerton recently ran a very popular vintage weekend which they hope will be repeated in 2014.

The exhibition runs until November 3 2013; re-opening again from November 23 until January 6 with a Christmas display (closed Christmas Day and Boxing Day). Admission to the exhibition is included in admission to the house and garden; see the Killerton website for more details. You can also see more of Killerton’s  collection through the National Trust Collections online.

Forthcoming exhibitions at Killerton:

Members of the Costume Society will be able to see the new exhibition for 2014: The Nature of Fashion as Killerton will be one of the venues for the Costume Society Symposium in July, details to be announced shortly.

This blog was written in collaboration with Shelley Tobin, Costume Curator, at Killeton.

Adorned In Trimmings

Adornment is the egoistic element as such: it singles out its wearer, whose self-feeling it embodies and increases at the cost of others, for, the same adornment of all would no longer adorn the individual (Simmel 1997:207).


A small dainty bead or sequin can seem invisible or insignificant on its own, but when it is adjacent to a thousand others, in the context of a garment, it has meaning.

Throughout the history of fashion the use of trimming or ornamentation has changed dramatically. There are points in history, such as the era of Henry VIII, where men, more so than women, would have indulged in lavish trimmings which adorned their outfits. Yet, today trimmings are more commonly associated with women’s garments. Trimmings were used on women’s garments during the 1920-30s to the point of extravagance, as they indicate the look and style of this specific period extremely well.

Dress trimmings were at their most influential on evening wear and couture. The trimmings produced a sense of fun, luxury, and glamour, especially during the rise of jazz and dancing in the 1930s. Trimmings also allowed women to distinguish an outfit worn during the day from those worn during the afternoon or evening.

This is a detail of the embroidered design on the afternoon dress (Blaise Castle, Bristol)
This is a detail of the embroidered design on the afternoon dress
Blaise Castle, Bristol

Evening wear would be worn for cocktail parties or nightclubbing, although it was only available for those who could afford it.

Evening gown (National Trust, Killerton)
Evening Gown
National Trust, Killerton

The cartoon, below, by “Fish” depicts a fashionable woman in 1920 wearing an evening gown embellished with dress trimmings. Fish. 1922. Cartoon. Print on paper. Eve Pictorial in (Dorner, J. 1973:7)

Adam: “Good gracious, Eve! You aren’t really going out in the apology for a dress?”
Eve: “Sure thing , old top. One must be in the fashion or die”


Day-wear was considered for practical purposes and so called ‘sensible clothes’, hence it did not have any elaborate dress trimmings.

This is a Crepe de chine dress with long sleeves and Erie lace collar, c1925-1930 (Blaise Castle, Bristol)
This is a Crepe de chine dress with long sleeves and Erie lace collar, c1925-1930 Blaise Castle, Bristol

During this period trimmings would have been used by various people: dressmakers producing ready-to-wear fashion or couture outfits; and even mothers, daughters or sisters, venturing into home-sewing to save money just after the First World War (Burman 1999).

What are dress trimmings or dress ornaments?

How can a trimming or dress ornament be defined, and what does its use mean?

Dress trimming or dress ornaments are used on garments. The appearance of the trimmings or ornaments changes depending largely on the prevailing fashion.  In a general sense the term ‘trim’ has several meanings, in terms of dressmaking, ‘to trim’ suggests an item which had a ragged edge that has been cut away, trimming it into the desired shape, ‘trim those hanging threads dear and then the garment will be finished properly’.

A beaded dress trimming made of matt gold sequins and gold glass beads sewn onto cotton backing with cut outs, c1920-1939 (Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery, Georgian House, Bristol)
A beaded dress trimming made of matt gold sequins and gold glass beads sewn onto cotton backing with cut outs, c1920-1939
Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery, Georgian House, Bristol

‘Trim’ could also be a decorative finish applied to the edge of a garment, a collar, neckline, or the cuffs of a sleeve, as a form of dress ornamentation. It could take the form of beading or embroidery applied to the surface of a garment or worked onto ribbon which could be applied as a form of ‘trim’.

Yet, beading and embroidery are integrated into the structure of the garment as opposed to merely resting on the surface like lace or ribbon. Trim has various meanings when not associated with dressmaking for example: neat and spruce in appearance; trimming the hedge; or having your hair trimmed. It generally means ‘to make (something) neater by cutting it slightly without changing its basic shape. His white beard was neatly trimmed’ (Collins 2001:844). Trimming (something) is therefore a reaction, or implies that something appears untidy or unfinished to the eye and needs to be trimmed or enhanced to appear ordered or aesthetically pleasing.

Ornament, (Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery, Georgian House, Bristol)
Bristol City Museum & Art Gallery, Georgian House, Bristol

Dress Ornamentation is very similar to dress trimmings; however, ornamentation branches out to consist of decoration used on a garment or even a motif design scattered around the whole of the garment. Whereas, trimmings, as previously mentioned, consist of a small designated area, usually the edge of a garment in a form which has been embellished to give a sense of a garment being properly finished off.  It is clear that there is a definite distinction between decoration and ornament. They are both considered forms of trimmings yet, have a different method of application. ‘Decoration is distributed, to give balance as well as becomingness in the overall effect; ornament is concentrated, to give emphasis or individuality’ (Institute of Domestic Arts 1962:1).

What does it mean for the garment to be adorned in trimmings?

Could it be an ‘extra little something’ that finishes off an outfit, transforming a plain garment into an eye catching and spectacular one?  Trim seems to suggest other words which are closely linked or could be used in order to describe the style and specific type of trimming like: adorn, decorate, ornament, enhancement, appearance, beauty, emphasis, embellishment and distinction. It appears that the use of dress trimmings or dress ornaments merges into a paradox. Could a trimming be placed onto a garment with a pre-planned thought that it will enhance the garment, cover or conceal problems areas resulting from cut and construction?

It is possible that the use of trimmings may have a nascent concept in the form of adornment, enhancing characteristics of the wearer, expressing individuality with trimmings.

Are you adorned in trimmings?