London: “Fashioned from Nature”@ the V&A

It’s been a while since I’ve visited a fashion exhibition at the V&A, so I thought I might as well pop along to see “Fashioned from Nature,”  especially since the Frida Kahlo exhibition was booked up the day we visited (actually, we were intending to see Frida that day, because it finishes first (in November), but I wanted to see “Fashioned from Nature” too, so I wasn’t just settling. I’m not a Frida superfan, like the women I saw there dressed up like her, but I like her well enough (and can relate to having a unibrow, though I’m not as brave as she was and pluck mine), so I’ll go back to check it out on a day when I’ve pre-booked!). Admission to “Fashioned from Nature” is normally £12, but you get half off with a National Art Pass or National Rail 2 for 1 (which I advise doing).


“Fashioned from Nature” (which runs until January) is located in the same fashion gallery where I saw “Undressed,” and had much the same layout (probably because those cases don’t really look like they’re moveable). It explored “the complex relationship between fashion and nature from 1600 to the present day,” and I have to say I much preferred the 1600-early 1900s part, which was the lower gallery. I was a little worried there would be things made of butterfly wings in here (given my lepidopterophobia), but aside from the framed butterflies you can see in the shop, the creepiest bug thing was the dress decorated with the iridescent wing cases of thousands of beetles (see below), and that was only creepy because I felt bad for all the beetles (their wing cases were admittedly beautiful though).


But plenty of other animals were horribly slaughtered to make these clothes, although there were a relatively small number of furs here, probably because it’s obvious that animals are killed for those. The exhibition preferred to focus on less well-known clothing materials. I knew about whalebone and its use in corsetry, of course, given my interest in the Victorians, but for some reason I’d always pictured it as more of a solid, bony substance (like, you know, the actual bones of a whale). I didn’t realise that whalebone actually refers to baleen, and it pulls apart in layers into flexible wire-like strands which can be used to line umbrellas or give hats shape. There were examples of bonnets and corsets here that had been x-rayed, so we could view the whalebone structure within. There was also information about how whole species of birds were going extinct due to the demand for feathers. In fact, when the RSPB was originally founded in 1889, it was called the Plumage League because its whole aim was to stop the feather trade. They conducted demonstrations in London of how feathers were harvested (I hope no birds were killed in those demonstrations, but they might have been!), and feathers eventually became unfashionable as a result, at least until synthetic imitations were invented (there was a Linley Sambourne cartoon (remember Linley Sambourne?) in here to show how women wearing feathers were caricatured as evil bird women, but I have to admit that it just made me want to wear some kind of awesome black feather cape so I could be a raven woman too, as long as the feathers were synthetic).
Fortunately, the exhibition wasn’t only full of things that animals were killed to make. It was also full of things made of natural materials like cotton where the harvesting and manufacturing processes led to lots of suffering for humans too (ok, yeah, still horrible)! It talked about the environmental impact of various industries and the grossest was probably the manufacturing of the dye used to make “turkey red” until they invented a synthetic version, as it involved blood, pee, AND poop (animal rather than human, but still). There’s a passage in Little House in the Big Woods where Pa threatens to buy Ma a “turkey red” piece of fabric for her new apron unless she picks a colour herself (she was protesting that she didn’t really need a new apron, and he wanted her to have it. He wasn’t being mean or anything), and now I see why that was enough to goad Ma into picking a more attractive fabric. It wasn’t just because of the colour! We tend to think of acid rain as more of a modern problem, but it has been a real issue since the Industrial Revolution because of all the smoke produced by the cotton mills. And of course this all had a human impact as well, in addition to just living with the effects of pollution, because the demand for cotton led to slavery in America and terrible working conditions for mill employees in England.
Therefore, the least depressing things here were the clothes that were merely patterned with things inspired by nature, like the charming waistcoat featuring crab-eating macaques, or the many gorgeous flower-patterned dresses (I particularly loved the banksia scarf, because it made me think of Joseph Banks, who banksia is named for), though probably slave labour was used to create the cloth in the first place, so really everything involved some kind of exploitation. I guess the good thing about this exhibition was that it made you realise that fashion comes at a cost beyond money.
I was less interested in the upstairs (and unfortunately, larger) gallery, which contained modern sustainable fabrics (it’s good they are sustainable, but the clothing they were used to make was way less beautiful than the antique pieces). The descriptions of how these fabrics were made were just too technical for me, and that’s what most of the text up here was about. I was intrigued by the leathers made from fungus and grapes, however, because they really did look pretty good, and obviously doesn’t harm animals. There was also a quiz where you could see what kind of sustainable fashion model you’d be likely to follow in the future (model as in a pattern of behaviour, not actual models), although it did seem to place a lot of emphasis on making your own clothing, which is not something I’m skilled at by any stretch of the imagination, so I’m picturing a future of me wearing a lot of ill-fitting potato sack dresses. There were loads of clothes up here, but the vintage fashions (particularly in the section showing unsustainable clothing of the past; I’m the worst, but how gorgeous is that leopard print gown?!) were really the only ones I found appealing (and those badass bird witch shoes, but there is no conceivable way a human could actually walk in those, so they’re basically useless). I mean, you can create cute retro styles from sustainable materials! It doesn’t all have to look gross and futuristic, just saying.

I complained about “Undressed” not being worth £12, and because “Fashioned from Nature” was in the same gallery, it wasn’t any bigger, so I also don’t feel this was worth paying full price, but £6 was OK. I did think all the information downstairs about historical clothing manufacture was fascinating, and I read some of the labels twice to make sure I understood everything, but I kind of skimmed over the upstairs gallery because it bored me. I am just way more interested in the past than the future and I would have been much happier with more historical fashions, but then I guess it wouldn’t have fit the exhibition’s brief of showing fashion to the present day (though a lot of it was about the future, something not mentioned in that blurb I quoted earlier). 3/5, but those more interested in fabric technology or science might get more out of it.

Stockport, Greater Manchester: Hat Works

How could I not visit the “UK’s only museum dedicated to the hatting industry, hats, and headwear”?! So after leaving Manchester, we headed straight for Stockport to see Hat Works (passing a McVitie’s factory en route, though I sadly couldn’t find evidence of a factory shop. I was hoping to obtain a sack of defective caramel digestives that had been rejected due to having too much caramel or something). Apparently there is parking right around the corner from Hat Works, which we noticed belatedly after parking in a garage halfway across town. But no harm done, we needed the exercise anyway (including the hike up a giant set of steps, because Stockport is hilly) after eating grilled cheese for breakfast for the second day in a row.


I’m a bit confused as to what Hat Works’ official admission policy is, because the website states that admission is £5, but the woman at the desk didn’t charge us anything. They do offer guided tours, so perhaps the admission fee only applies to those? Anyway, I’d just assume you have to pay the fiver, and then you’ll be pleasantly surprised like we were if you don’t. We had to drive back to London before rush hour, so we did not have time for a 90 minute tour, and opted to just wander by ourselves instead. The museum is spread out over two levels (both located below the floor that you enter on), and is much bigger than I was expecting based on some of the reviews.


The exhibition level is where all the hats are, and it was a delightful array of headgear indeed (though seriously, why would a clown have a hat with a skeleton inside? Clowns are creeps). The lighting was pretty dim for conservation reasons, but as promised, our eyes did eventually adjust, so it was easier to see all the splendid hats, which even included some worn by celebrities (if you consider Fred Dibnah and Ainsley Harriott celebrities, that is (in fairness, they did have one of Judi Dench’s hats too, I’m just not a big Judi Dench fan.)). I quite liked the ones shaped like things, like cauliflowers and cakes, though I’m not sure how they’d look on.


Happily, I did get to see how I would look in a variety of other hats, because they had an amazing hat dress-up corner. I confess that a large factor in my deciding to visit the museum was my love for trying on hats, since I figured they’d have to have at least a couple out for that purpose. It was way more than a couple – there was a whole shelved wall full of hats, probably thirty different ones! I’m sure they were intended for children, but we were the only people visiting the museum, and frankly, some of the hats were on shelves that a child would have struggled to reach (even I struggled with the topmost ones), so I think they really wanted me to be able to take full advantage. Best hat corner ever!


I also really enjoyed the displays curated by various staff members at their partner museums, and I loved the one guest curator’s idea of having a “hats and cats” museum instead (the sample stuffed cat wearing a hat was pretty great, though I strongly suspect real cats would be not so enthused about hats). All the vintage hat ads were cool too, and may have inspired me to start wearing the cloche I acquired a few years back, but have never worn out of the house because I fear unruly youths will mock me and snatch it off my head.


The floor underneath the hatstravaganza contained old hat factory machinery (the building is housed in an old factory, though I wasn’t real clear on whether it was actually a hat factory. I think it may have just been a cotton mill). This is where the guided tour would have paid off, because tour groups are allowed access into a couple special areas that we weren’t, and got way more information about the machinery than what was provided on the signs (judging by the group that was going through while we were there), but to be honest, my interest in hat manufacturing is nowhere near as great as my interest in looking at and trying on unusual hats, so I was content with just reading the signage.


There was also a mock-up of an old hatter’s cottage, which was pretty depressing, and perhaps authentically cold, as well as some information about the history of hat makers (not enough info about them going mad from mercury poisoning, but there was a bit). Basically, like everyone else who was working class in Victorian Britain, they had grim lives, with the added benefit of potential insanity, and male hatters were incredibly resentful of female hatters because they drove wages down. By this point it was already cutting it close for us getting back home at a reasonable hour, so I didn’t spend as much time in here as I probably should have, but the hat exhibition floor was definitely my preferred floor anyway, and I had ample time to look at that.


The gift shop sells, as you might expect, a variety of hats for men and women, though I declined to purchase one on this occasion, since I already own that cloche that I’m not wearing. I did get a postcard of what was allegedly the Duke of Wellington’s hat from Waterloo (the big feathery thing) which is also on display inside the museum (see below). I was pleasantly surprised that the museum was so much larger and hattier than I was expecting, and even if I had to pay £5, I would have been quite content with what I got to see in return, because it really was an excellent hat museum (as well it might be, if it’s the only one in Britain). 4/5 for the Hat Works, and it’s not the only museum in Stockport – I might have to go back some day to tour the old air raid shelter (and investigate the biscuit factory further – I want those defective extra caramelly digestives that may or may not exist)!


Blandford, Dorset: The Blandford Fashion Museum

I make no attempt to hide the fact that I have the most juvenile sense of humour, so I’ll just admit it up-front: I only visited the Blandford Fashion Museum because it was built by Bastards.  Yes, the Georgian building that the museum is housed in was literally built by a pair of Bastards; the brothers John and William Bastard. I’m pretty sure bastard has been a derogatory term since at least medieval times, so I’m not quite sure why the two were saddled with such an unfortunate surname, but they don’t seem to have lived up to it in either sense of the word, since they were both legitimate Bastard children, and they rebuilt most of Blandford after the fire of 1731, and it is a reasonable looking town (despite it also having an unfortunate name).


Anyway, our visit to the Bastard House, I mean, Blandford Fashion Museum, got off to a somewhere awkward start due to some confusing signage outside. The museum is also home to a tearoom, and the sign outside that said they were only open til 4…as it was already 4:02 by the time we arrived, we thought we were too late. However, when we walked around to the museum entrance, there was an “Open” sign hanging from the gate, and a sign saying that their spring hours, which began on the first of April (this was the end of April) were from 10-5. There was a gentleman working in the garden just next to the front door, so we asked him if they were still open, and he seemed uncertain, but told us to go in anyway and see if anyone was at the admissions desk. Fortunately, there was still a volunteer there, but she was busy counting up the day’s takings when we walked in. Feeling uncertain, we offered to leave, but she assured us that it was fine, because they were supposed to let people in until 4:30 anyway, so we paid her a fiver each, and began to look around the museum.


Unfortunately, while the admissions lady was perfectly nice, and didn’t seem to be in any particular hurry, the same couldn’t be said of the tearoom staff. Though we had absolutely no intention of taking tea, and told them as much, we had to listen to the continued grumblings of the tearoom ladies throughout our visit, as they bitched about having already closed the tearoom, and wanting to go home (and to be honest, I’m not quite sure why they couldn’t have just gone home. They certainly didn’t contribute anything positive to our visit). They had already turned the lights out in most of the museum, so the poor volunteer at the admissions desk, who clearly had some mobility issues, had to come over and turn them back on for us (which is why some of the pictures are really dark), and unlock the rooms that they had already locked up. We felt really horrible and guilty about the whole thing, but we had already paid, so we just rushed through the museum as quickly as we could, feeling uncomfortable the whole while.


As for the museum itself, I think I would have quite enjoyed it if I didn’t have to hurry through. The collections were arranged in 10 or 11 different rooms of the house, and whilst there were only a handful of outfits in most of the rooms, the signage was generally quite good, and some of the clothes were really neat. Take that fruit-print dress from the ’50s, above left, which I would totally wear (actually, I have a pineapple dress, but it’s not as good as that one!).


Sadly, there was no mention of the Bastards in the house (the admissions lady was telling us a bit about the history of the museum, which was started by a lady called Mrs. Penny, and I was already biting the inside of my lip so I didn’t start laughing in anticipation of her talking about the Bastard brothers, but she left them out altogether. Eagle-eyed Marcus did spot one mention of them outside a different building, as you’ll see at the end of the post to prove I’m not making them up), but there were a few amusing anecdotes amongst the object labels, including one about the man who devised and wore the first top hat in 1797. Apparently, “passers-by reacted with horror” and he was later fined for daring to wear such an unusual piece of headwear. Of course, a few decades on everyone was wearing the damn things!


And, as you can see, the mannequins were also pretty good (i.e. creepy)!  The earliest pieces of clothing were Georgian, and there were a couple Victorian dresses, but most of the collection was 20th century. There were also separate displays of hats, shoes, lace, buttons (including Dorset knobs, for which the bread products are named, due to their resemblance to the buttons), and coats.


I am not a fan of winter; in fact, pretty much the only positive, as far as I’m concerned, is getting to wear a good coat, so I really enjoyed the coat room. I probably have about ten winter coats already (in fairness to me, they’ve been acquired over a number of years, and that’s pretty much all people see of your outfit for four or five months out of the year, so I don’t think ten is an excessive number), but I would definitely happily add that cool reversible coat from the ’20s (above left) to my collection, though it doesn’t look all that warm.


Anyway, I definitely think this museum had some potential (though a fiver might be a bit steep), but our visit was unfortunately tainted by those tearoom ladies and their attitude problem. If the museum is actually open until 5, as the sign outside and the website claim (and the volunteer agreed with), I don’t understand why it was a problem for us to visit at 4 (and we were out the door by 4:30, so they still technically got to leave early). I think they need to sort out what their opening hours actually are, and make sure all the employees and volunteers are aware of them. Also, although I enjoyed most of the signs, one of the rooms mysteriously had none, just empty stands (perhaps it was those tearoom ladies being overzealous in shutting the place down early?) which is a shame, because additional information was definitely crucial to the experience, and I would have liked to know something about the dresses I was looking at in that room. So 2/5 for our particular awkward experience, which I would like to stress is not the fault of the volunteer, just those mean tearoom ladies (who were presumably being paid), but I’d be willing to bump it up to 3 if that hadn’t happened, because the displays were clearly lovingly arranged by someone, and the signage was surprisingly good (save for a mention of Barbra “Streisland” and of course the missing labels) for a small local museum.

London: Undressed; a Brief History of Underwear @ the V&A

Man, this exhibit was pants. Well, not actually (truthfully,”pants” is not even a slang term I’d use in that sense, not being British), but the subject matter of this exhibit is ripe for punning. The V&A do it themselves in the exhibit title, as you may have noticed.

Undressed just started a few weeks ago, and is running at the V&A until March 2017, so I’ve left you plenty of time to see it for once, as of the time of publication.  Full price admission is £12, but you can get in for £6 with a National Art Fund Pass, or a National Rail 2-for-1, which I highly recommend doing, because there ain’t no way a bunch of undies are worth 12 quid.  The exhibit is inside the “fashion temporary exhibit space,” which I genuinely don’t think I’d ever been inside before (to be honest, this might be the first temporary exhibit I’ve paid to see at the V&A, though I’ve enjoyed their permanent (free) galleries on many an occasion).  It’s hidden inside the middle of the British fashion through history hall (or whatever it’s actually called) which itself is an area of the museum I’ve only been in once or twice.  I guess I tend to spend most of my time in the early modern galleries or over in the India section gazing at the excellent Tipu’s Tiger (I have a Staffordshire knock-off of a knock-off version of it, but it’s nowhere near as impressive as the original).

Anyway, in terms of crowding, which is always a concern with these temporary exhibitions, it wasn’t too bad.  We were allowed immediate entry with the timed tickets, and though it was pretty busy inside, generally people seemed to move along so you weren’t straining to read captions over shoulders the whole time.  Of course, this was about 2 o’clock on a Wednesday, so I would imagine weekends are a whole other experience altogether.  You probably have to buy tickets early in the day then to even have a hope of getting in without extreme crowds. The exhibit is set up on two floors, which did help some, as the upstairs was more spread out, and therefore not as crowded, and the downstairs space was set up into two concentric circles, so we were able to do the least busy loop first and then head back around once the other side had cleared out a bit, so bra-vo to the V&A for decent organisation (see what I did there?).

No pictures were allowed, which is why you get this very boring, text heavy post, but there was some bra-illiant undies in here.  I suppose the exhibit was trying to trace historical developments in underthings, but it wasn’t strictly in chronological order; at least, the middle circle was kind of all over the place.  There was of course much emphasis on corsetry and other uncomfortable innovations in women’s underwear, right up to the present day, including this horrible butt-lifting device that went around each cheek and came to a thong down the middle (I mean, really, it looked so hideously uncomfortable. You’d be better off just doing some squats so your butt is actually lifted, if you’re concerned enough about it to wear torture device undergarments).  I wouldn’t say I’m part of the anti-bra brigade or anything (I mean, I never wear them when I’m just sitting around my house (or jeans or anything. My jimjams go on the second I walk in the door) but sometimes I need the support.  Mainly when working out), but my primary concern is comfort, and I can’t really understand why people would do these things to themselves.  And, it’s not just women, they also had a selection of male girdles (popular with Regency-era dandies),and weird crotch-bulge enhancing boxers (not sure of the point of those.  If your pants are tight enough that people can see the outline of your junk, surely they’re too tight to wear underwear at all.  I mean, I’m pretty confident all those rock stars in the ’70s weren’t wearing a whole lot under their jeans.

I was actually quite into the ’30s fashions.  Getting to wear pajamas on the beach might actually convince me to go to the beach (see my aforementioned devotion to pjs), and there was a beautiful nightgown embroidered with a pair of turtle doves and accompanied with an ostrich feather wrap that I would totally wear outside.  They also had some lingerie inspired dresses worn by famous people, but most of them were hella ugly.  Speaking of famous people, there was a corset worn by Queen Victoria’s mother (she was a hell of a lot slimmer than Victoria), and a bunch of Queen Alexandra’s stockings and such, which was good because famous historical figures are of far more interest to me than celebrities.

It was definitely a female-centric exhibition (both in terms of the people attending the exhibit, and in the underwear on display, though my boyfriend happily accompanied me to it, which is fortunate, since I don’t really have any female friends here), but they did have a few display cases on Y-fronts and these charming pink Disney themed boxers that were apparently all the rage in the gay community in the ’60s.  I guess women’s underwear has just changed more dramatically over time, plus there’s all the drama of deformed organs and bones that you get with corsetry and the other more restrictive forms of undergarments. They even included X-rays of women wearing corsets, so you could see the damage they did (the stereoscopic images of women passing out because of their corsets were delightful as well.  I also liked all the cartoons featuring skeletons, because tightly laced corsets mean death!).

Overall, I think we were in there for about forty minutes, which was plenty of time to see and read everything (nothing interactive here, but the cartoons provided a touch of whimsy), which to me, is not worth 12 quid, so I was happy we’d only paid half price.  I do think £6 was probably ok, because it was very well put together, and fairly interesting.  I used to go to fashion exhibitions pretty regularly growing up (the Western Reserve Historical Society had a fashion gallery, with constantly changing exhibitions), but it’s been a while since I’ve been to one as an adult (probably not since I went to the Kent State Fashion Museum a couple years ago), probably due to the aforementioned lack of female friends (not to stereotype, but it definitely does seem like a more female-centric activity, probably in large part because most men’s clothing is boring.  Except spats and two-tone shoes), and it was nice to have a poke around the world of Victorian fashion again, perils of corsets and crinolines and all (I definitely have a soft spot for hoop skirts and bustles because of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her detailed descriptions of her clothing in These Happy Golden Years). The captions were informative and just long (john) enough, and I think in general, it was a nicely put-together exhibit, just not quite worth the admission price.  3.5/5.

Oh, and as a side note, I’ll be travelling around New Zealand and Australia for the next month or so (pretty cool, right?!), so if I take longer than usual to approve or respond to your comments, that is the reason why.  I’ll of course be posting about all my adventures eventually (and have scheduled weekly posts like this one to go up whilst I’m away), but in the meantime, you can follow me on Instagram @jsajovie (or just click the link in the sidebar) where I’ll be regularly posting photos from my travels!

London: The Fashion and Textile Museum


A few Fridays ago, my boyfriend and I went to see the Stephen Sondheim musical Assassins at the Menier Chocolate Factory, near London Bridge (despite the name, and to my disappointment, it is no longer a working chocolate factory.  Good thing I swung by Konditor and Cook to stock up on brownies beforehand).  Because it has reached the point where I feel like a lousy blogger if I go into Central and don’t visit a museum, I decided I might as well head into town early and find somewhere new to check out, but that was easier said than done. Even though London has a crapload of museums, I’ve worked my way through most of them since starting Diverting Journeys.  However, thanks to Google maps, I was reminded that there is a Fashion and Textile Museum, also near London Bridge, that I had never been to, with exhibitions on knitwear and wallpaper, both of which were ending that weekend.  Being a fan of quirky jumpers and Victorian wallpaper, it seemed like the perfect time to check it out (though not really the perfect time to blog about it, since neither of these exhibits are there now.  Oh well, just think of this blog as a sort of time capsule).

I think the £8.80 admission fee had probably deterred me from visiting in the past, but sometimes these things are unavoidable, so I parted with the cash (I kind of hate myself for using the British pronunciation of adult when I buy tickets to things, but I do it anyway because I’m scared they’ll look at me funny otherwise.  I need to get over my social anxiety).  The museum was apparently started by Zandra Rhodes (who freaks me out a bit), and doesn’t have a permanent collection; rather, it is made up of ever-changing temporary exhibitions, in keeping with the transient nature of fashion (plus a shop and cafe).  “Visionary Knitwear” was the larger of the exhibits by far, filling almost all the gallery space, save one small room.  It contained items from the collection of Mark and Cleo Butterfield (no idea who they are, the museum seemed to imply that I should already know), which covered the Edwardian era through the 1980s.

Weirdly, for something so artistically orientated, you weren’t allowed to take photographs (and they were really emphatic about it too, with slashed out camera signs hanging every few feet, just in case you forgot I guess), so I can’t actually show you any of these styles, but there were definitely some beautiful items of clothing there.  The Edwardian “golf sweaters” were gorgeous, and I really liked some of the folk and Fair Isle knits from the 1930s, plus the “novelty knits” from the ’60s and ’70s, especially the ice cream sundae and the eagle (I have a thing for stupid animal sweaters.  I only have an orangutan, fox, and puffin so far, but I’m always looking to add to the collection.  I’m not a hipster though, I swear!).  I was less happy with the signage, which seemed aimed at people familiar with the fashion industry and its terminology.  It was more about the construction of the garments than the history behind them (there was some history on the larger introductory signs, but not enough for my liking), and used a lot of terms I didn’t even really understand, not being a knitter or someone who works in fashion (I used to work in a department store, but Kohl’s is really not that fancy, and required no technical knowledge of the clothing industry).

The wallpaper exhibit, confined to the aforementioned back room, was possibly of more interest simply because they really did go into the history of the Watts firm and the many historic homes that contain their wallpapers.  The company was started by “Middle Scott” (son of George Gilbert Scott, who designed St. Pancras, and father of Giles Gilbert Scott, who was responsible for Battersea Power Station and the iconic red telephone booth) and several of his architect friends – because gentlemen weren’t supposed to sully their good names by being involved in trade in those times, they chose Watts as a sort of pun, as in, “What’s in a name?”  Because they were architects, rather than just designers, they took a different perspective on wallpaper design than their competitor William Morris, and thus made paper that took into consideration the exterior of the building as well as the interior (they also seemed to have a larger range of choices than William Morris, as you could have any of their designs made up in whatever colours you liked).

They certainly won me over with their papers, which tended to be two-tone, and were thus much less busy than William Morris’s papers (I think they might be my new choice for my hypothetical Victorian parlour, maybe the Sunflower or Pear Tree patterns, no offence to William Morris, but I get enough of him at the local history project I volunteer with).  Whilst the knitwear exhibit suffered from having too little text, I think the wallpaper one almost had too much, as I didn’t really need to hear what various posh people thought of their wallpapers, or a list of every stately home they appear in.  Still, too much is better than not enough, though in the words of Caroline Ingalls, “enough is as good as a feast.”

The shop sold some Zandra Rhodes designs, as well as a lot of random jewellery and other crap, but all I left with was a postcard of my favourite ice cream jumper.  I feel like admission was steep for what was actually there and how long it took me to see it (under an hour).  I’m glad I finally checked it out, but I don’t think I’m interested enough in 20th century fashion to go back, especially with the lack of historical detail for many of the pieces.  2.5/5.

Oh, and if you’re wondering about that play, it was very good (despite the predictable historical inaccuracies)!  I love presidential history, so I was really excited when I heard Assassins was coming back to London, and aside from the ever-annoying Catherine Tate, I thought the cast did a really nice job (highlights were Aaron Tveit as John Wilkes Booth and Andy Nyman as Charles Guiteau.  Also the guy who played Franklin Delano Romanowski in Seinfeld was playing Samuel Byck, which is exciting if you’ve watched Seinfeld as many times as I have).  Two caveats, if you decide to go see it yourself: Seats F7 and F8 have a restricted view, something we were not informed of when we bought the tickets, which were the same price as tickets with an unrestricted view.  Unless you enjoy not being able to see a third of the stage, avoid those.  Also, the play is set in a carnival, so there are a lot of giant creepy-ass clown heads in there; depending on your degree of coulrophobia, that may be something else to avoid.  Like all sensible people, I hate clowns, but I managed fine even with its horrible light-up eyes staring at me the whole time, so you might be ok too…just thought I’d throw the warning out there!


Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Fashion Museum

In what will be a sadly picture-free post (no photography allowed!), I’d like to discuss my recent visit to Kent’s fashion museum.  Although I love looking at old clothes, I’d never been to Kent’s museum before.  In fact, I went to university as an undergrad in Akron, and therefore haven’t spent much time on Kent’s campus at all, even though there is frozen custard to be had just down the road (if you’re there during the “summer” season, head over to Stoddard’s for a delicious ice cream).  Thursday’s are the museum’s late night, when it’s open until 8:45 (it closes at 4:45 every other day, except Monday and Tuesday, when it is shut entirely), and there’s convenient free parking right next to it.  Admission is $5.

I just missed the special fan exhibition, which was no biggie since I’ve of course been to the Greenwich Fan Museum, but there were a few other temporary exhibitions on, and I believe even the permanent galleries have their contents rotated out from time to time, as Kent keeps quite a lot in storage.  The place had some annoyingly giggly students in when I was there, but was otherwise empty.  I began with an exhibit on pleats, and honestly, I never knew there were so many different types!  Even though the signage was very limited, I found a helpful booklet on the back wall that listed the dates and designers of all the clothes, in addition to describing the pleat styles, and how they were made.  My favourite was the lovely pale blue Delphos gown from 1946, with Fortuny pleats, but I was also intrigued by the dresses with horizontal pleating (which has to be sewn to hold it in place). The dresses ranged in age from the 18th-20th centuries, and there was also a collection of hats, many of them from local department stores, like Higbee’s and Halle’s (my grandmother had a great hat collection back in the day, I think many of which came from Halle’s, so I like to think she may have worn some similar styles in the ’40s or ’50s).  Upon reflection, I believe this was the exhibit I enjoyed the most at this museum.

The permanent exhibit is a “timeline of fashion,” featuring dresses again from the 18th-20th centuries, as those make up the bulk of Kent’s collection.  There were also some gorgeous dresses in here, and although I think walking around in a Victorian number might be a bit much, there was a stunning floral print silk from the ’30s that I’d be happy to wear today if someone offered it to me!  I actually love ’30s and ’40s style dresses; I think they hang well, and are form-fitting without being overly clingy.  Anyway, the “timeline” segued into a room holding a small glass collection of mostly carnival glass, and there were also a few display cases in the hallway back to the entrance full of hats and shoes (lots of Laura Ingalls-era bonnets to inspect!).

Up the staircase I went, to the special “Vestments” exhibit, which was obviously loads of ornate Catholic priest-wear. Religious stuff isn’t really my thing (I got enough of looking at vestments when I was a child.  I was even an altar girl for a few years, so I got to wear those little robes that tied with the coloured cord.  I’m sure they have a specific name, but I can’t remember all that Catholic terminology), so I kind of skimmed over this, and once again, there wasn’t much information on the objects; you had to search on the computer they provided for more details.

The final exhibit was called “Shifting Paradigms” and was about the intersection of fashion and technology.  Again, I am a history nerd, and was really mainly there to look at all the Victorian and early-to-mid 20th century clothes, so weirdly moulded shoes that looked unwearable, and computer-designed clothing didn’t really do much for me, but I did pick up a free zine on the art of tying t-shirts (unfortunately, instructions weren’t provided, only pictures of the finished products).

Finally, the museum has a shop, reminiscent of the V&A shop on a much smaller scale, with jewellery and clothing by up-and-coming designers, which is worth a look if you’re into that sort of thing.  The Kent Museum was described to me as being very small, and perhaps they’ve added on since then, because although it certainly wasn’t huge, it was definitely bigger than I was expecting, with the capacity for at least 5 different galleries. Whilst it wasn’t the most amazing fashion collection I’ve seen, and I would have appreciated more detail on the signs, it wasn’t terrible either, and I think I probably would have enjoyed it even more if I’d visited during a more appealing special exhibit.  They had ones last year on bathing costumes, Civil War fashions, and undergarments, all of which looked neat; unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to check them out at the time, but I’d definitely return in future for a different historically themed exhibition.  3/5