On my recent trip to England, I made a side trip to the beautiful small town of Bath primarily to visit its fashion museum. Of course, I also took in the stunning Georgian architecture of this gem of a town, which is now of the UNESCO list of world heritage sites. But truth be told, it was the reputation of the fashion museum that tempted me, and I was not disappointed.
The museum is located in the basement of the Assembly Rooms in Bath, where Jane Austen promenaded and her characters danced and gambled. What excited me about the museum’s collection is that it includes not only rare examples of designer clothing, but also everyday outfits that normal people wore. For example, the special exhibit “Fifty Fabulous Frocks” marking the fiftieth anniversary of the museum showed not only stunning works by the world’s most famous designers, but also several home made dresses to illustrate what the average woman might have had in her closet.
It wasn’t hard for me to pick a favorite outfit. Since I love champagne, I was particularly taken with this dress designed to look like a Veuve Clicquot bottle worn to a fancy dress ball in 1902. The museum even located a photo of the unknown owner of the dress, worn with some alterations. While she is certainly not yet in my preferred age group, she is no spring chicken either.
I was fascinated by the wide range of exhibits, showing items from the eighteenth century to the present, from couture to ready-to-wear, from hats to shoes. There was even a dress up room where you could try on the kinds of undergarments and layers necessary to dress like a stylish nineteenth century woman. (It made me tired just to consider the process.) While the museum’s website offers a search engine, as of yet it is very modest and does not reflect the depths of its holdings.
Interested in fashion history? Anywhere near Southern England? This museum is definitely worth the trip.