Exhibition Review: A Century of Style

WARNING: if you do not like fashion history or textiles look away now.  This is a long overdue post, The History Girls and friends FINALLY got around to seeing ‘A Century of Style’ in Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Museum this weekend, and we very much enjoyed ourselves.   There was a lot of this type of thing: ‘Oh my gooood, have you seen the beading on that?!’, ‘I would 100% wear that right now, I’m serious, I would look great.’, and ‘Uggghhh look at those buttons!’.  Both Karen and myself are fashion and textile history fiends, so we were thrilled to hear that this exhibition was happening, curated by our one-time lecturer and all round goddess Rebecca Quinton.

Seeing red, and pink, and blush, and crinolines…


Before I launch into the unsurprisingly glowing review, I’m just going to begin by saying that I really think Scotland’s museums have been missing a trick when it comes to dress, just look at the V&A, it’s fashion exhibitions just keep getting bigger and bigger because people simply love looking at clothes.  That’s an overly simplistic statement, but realistically, clothes, especially older clothes, can not only be well crafted works of art, but they can also elicit an incredibly emotional response from the viewer.  We can see ourselves wearing them, and we think about who wore each item, as well as where and why.  We all chuck clothes on every single day, well, if you’re leaving the house, and that’s why the study of dress is so crucial to the understanding of any culture or society at any period in history.  I am therefore super thrilled and excited that the National Museum of Scotland will be opening a dedicated fashion gallery in 2016, along with 15 other brand new galleries… I am getting hot under the collar just at the thought, and I am sure the History Girls will be first in the queue when they open the doors.  Anyway, back to the review.

This pink number on the left would look great on me.


First things first, what’s it all about?  The blurb on the Kelvingrove Website states that; This beautiful exhibition of 19th-century clothing comes from Glasgow Museums’ collection of European costume. Showcasing some rarely seen examples of womenswear, menswear and children’s clothing, it considers how such clothes were made and where they were sold, as well as revealing the stories of some of the people who wore them.  This description perfectly reflects the feel of the exhibition, the clothing was the star of the show.  The exhibition itself was divided by colour, a lovely and very effective way of dealing with such different styles of dress across a 100 year period.  Grey, white, yellow, green, purple, blue and black all made an appearance, and simple led coloured lights under the white exhibition stands matched each sections colour, a nice modern touch.  Jewellery and accessories as well as one extraordinary black beaded gown were the only items behind glass, this meant that glare and reflections were not an issue and really did enhance the enjoyment of the visitor experience.

Is it a curtain?  A sofa?  No it’s a divine blue dress you pleb.


Each colour coded section also included a portrait from the period whose sitter was wearing contemporary dress, a  great way to show how dress can be represented in art, which also emphasised the human element of the exhibition.  The mannequins themselves were lovely, they are very hard to get right, but these had the feel of a dressmakers dummy, and the hair if included, was very well done.  They were also featureless, which is my personal preference, I find the ones with faces as little eerie.  Mirrors, complete with age spots, were placed behind the clothing throughout the exhibition, and some mannequins even revolved slowly giving us a 360 degree view of the item displayed.  This is vital as clothes are generally made to be viewed from all angles, including from behind, especially if there’s a bustle involved.  The lighting was soft, in order to protect the items on show, but it also gave the whole exhibition a rather romantic feel, or maybe that’s just me…  Either way it was an absolute pleasure to walk around, and at £5 for a full price ticket an absolute bargain to boot.

My favourite ensemble on display, straight out of Austen.


Overall the interpretation was simple, charming and of course educational, and the exhibition design was modern, romantic and completely delightful.  I hope to see many more exhibitions like it in Glasgow, and in the meantime you can always buy yourself ‘Introducing European Costume in Glasgow Museums’ from the gift shop for a very reasonable £7.99.







4 Comments Add yours

  1. Anabel Marsh says:

    Couldn’t agree more, I thought this was brilliantly done. The colour arrangement was stunning – far better than chronological order which could have been a teeny bit dull. My favourite was the deep blue dress at the back of your picture. I would look AMAZING in that (if it was several sizes bigger 😦 ). Icing on the cake for me: using the portrait of Isabella Elder, a heroine of mine, in the “black” section. I did buy the book, but was disappointed it didn’t follow the same format though.


    1. Agreed! Seeing all the different hues of each colour grouped together made the whole experience very aesthetically pleasing! I’m also an Isabella fan so I was thrilled to see her portrait, she is a woman who tends to get forgotten about I think, so this will definitely introduce her to lots more people. I think the book may be a reprint? Could be wrong though. It definitely would have been lovely to have a proper exhibition book/catalogue though as it would have been beautiful!


      1. Anabel Marsh says:

        The book is 2015 but covers a wider period than the exhibition and doesn’t have everything in it. I think Isabella is becoming better known, there was a project in Govan a couple of years ago and Glasgow Women’s Library also features her. Her Wikipedia entry was written by, ahem, yours truly at a GWL Editathon. I’m doing my bit!


  2. Alison says:

    Yes, very much agree. Good blog. I’ve been in a couple of times and it’s an excellent exhibition. As a corsetmaker I’d have loved to have seen more than one corset, but I’m biased. There was still plenty of gorgeousness to see. I very much hope it’s opened some eyes to the popularity of costume and fashion exhibits. Just look at the V&A, opening round the clock for McQueen. Wonderful fashion galleries at Durham and Bath of course. But the sad loss of Snibston in Leicestershire shows that it’s not always recognised. Can’t wait for Edinburgh 🙂


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