This museum has been at the top of my “must visit” list for years. For those of you who don’t know, I have been volunteering both directly and indirectly with the Australian Dress Register since 2014. This work has really sparked my interest in textile collections from both a collection management and conservation perspective. I believe that every textile can tell a fascinating story reflecting a time period, personality, society, or all of the above. I had planned on visiting the museum tomorrow but I was so excited I went there as soon as I got off the train. The exhibition I saw was: A History of Fashion in 100 Objects. There is a small entrance fee, but, trust me, the exhibition is worth every cent. Included in the ticket price is an audio guide that can be used throughout the entire museum.
With the audio guide in hand, I entered into the exhibition space and so began two hours of pure joy. Almost every garment in the 100 objects exhibition had an audio guide number. Yes, I listened to all of them. Whereas so many audio guides are the cause of congestion, each stop on this tour was 2 minutes maximum. This meant people were moving around and not standing in one space for too long. It was quite busy when I visited but I never felt as though it was overcrowded.
The exhibition itself is arranged in chronological order from a Tudor linen shirt to contemporary fashion pieces. There is, therefore, an overall narrative focusing on how English fashion has changed and how style has evolved. The exhibition caters to a range of visitors in that you can follow the entire narrative from start to finish or you can walk through at your own pace selecting what to look at more closely. I saw great value in following the narrative and building my knowledge from one garment to the next. Then again, I did find myself skipping pieces and coming back because I was distracted by something stunning in the distance.
The signage in the exhibition space is wonderful. To start with, you are warned that the exhibition is dimly lit etc for conservation reasons. It is great to see this information being presented to the public! About a third of the way through there is another sign directing you to a small exhibition that deviated from 100 objects. The Behind the Scenes exhibition displayed some more garments, but also, how they are stored in the collection. Some of the dresses were massive and I was wondering how they are best stored. My questions were answered. Speaking of signs, there are no thematic panels in the exhibition space. Rather, each individual garment has its own individual significance explained and this, in the context of the exhibition, works very well.
I am going to be really picky here and I am sure it was considered, but, I would have loved some digital technology incorporated into the exhibition. At the Australian War Memorial select uniforms were accompanied by an iPad that allowed for a 360 degree view. Some of the garments in the 100 objects exhibition were so detailed it would have been great to zoom in and inspect it closer. This thought only came to me after I had exited the exhibition so perhaps it would not have made a massive difference at all.
Reflecting on the exhibition, I have so many highlight objects I don’t know where to start. I did have a favourite – a linen waistcoat from 1610s. Besides from the fact that a textile from the 1610s has survived, it is such an exquisite garment. The colours of the tapestry embroidery are still so vibrant and all the pale pink silk bows are intact. What makes this piece particularly interesting is that its original owner may be known – Lady Alice L’Estrange. It is amazing to think that someone, whether L’Estrange or not, was wearing this waistcoat when King James I was monarch. Considering this, its condition is incredible.
Another highlight were the baby’s first shoes. They are so adorable and showcase such intricate embroidery. Seeing them in a group had much more of an impact than if they were displayed separately. The pair directly in the middle are so delicate-looking! I also like how shoes for every season are represented.
My other highlight objects can be seen in a gallery below. Happy viewing!