Our Collection by Colour No. 1
The School of Historical Dress
52 Lambeth Road
Open until 29 February 2023
Fridays 4pm to 8pm
Saturdays and Sundays 12 noon to 4pm
The exhibition at the School of Historical Dress in Lambeth is displayed in one large room on the ground floor; it features white pieces of cloth and garments and accessories from the school’s rich collection and hopes to tell a story and showcase pieces of the school’s archive through the colour white.
There are three sections in the exhibition. The first shows the evolution of ruffs from the 16th century onwards via original pieces and reproductions made for theatrical performances. The second part is about muslin – its history and uses both in India and in Europe. Various examples of muslin are displayed, including Indian men’s dress shirts and models of women’s dresses from the early 1800s until the 1840s. The final part has examples of modern pieces of clothing inspired by old fashions which are displayed alongside them. They include pieces by Laura Ashley, Nabil Nayal and Vivienne Westwood.
Jenny Tiramani, the principal of the school, explains that the exhibition is the result of a collaboration by members of the team including those currently doing voluntary work and research at the school. Their interest in and passion for costumes and historical dress have made the exhibition possible. There is so much culture and history gathered in one room via ancient and modern pieces; they allow a comparison between past and present trends, emphasising a continuity that reveals a strong cultural heritage whose influences are still visible in the work of contemporary fashion designers.
Ruffs were part of men’s and women’s clothing from the 1530s and became incredibly popular in the 17th century. The pictures of the period show large collar ruffs that both adults and children used to wear. The pieces on display are mainly reproductions and have been worn by actors on stage. They are unique and reveal the delicacy and richness of the garment. Ruffs were starched in order to keep them stiff and the process is shown in a reproduction from The Monkey Series (Plate 9, 16th century). The exhibition also has some tools used for starching on display.
Muslin, a cotton textile, was handwoven in India and exported to Europe during the period of the British Empire. This textile is not only displayed through clothing but also hung from the ceiling and presented as “book muslin”. Three European muslin women’s dresses and two three-tiered elbow ruffs show how fashionable and elegant the products of such a fabric were, as well as the evolution of the styles for which it was used.
“Fashions from old” brings the colour white to our modern times, starting with a 1960 Laura Ashley blouse with lace that is displayed alongside a blouse and dress from around 1909 that have lace inserts. The Vivienne Westwood corset from her made-to-measure bridal line is also a beautiful piece, with a particular transparency showcasing details of its internal structure which relates to the cloth of silver corset stays shown alongside it.
The exhibition evolves in interesting and engaging practices that influenced modern techniques and taste. The pureness of white wraps the viewer in a charming atmosphere that is both an enlightening experience and an extraordinary vision. The uniqueness of the pieces on display and the research behind them show a significant understanding of the concept and use of white beyond fashion and trends that is extended into a wider social and historical context.
Carla Scarano © 2023.