Sudley House marks 100 years of social change and fashion in Twentieth century Chic

By Emily Beeson | 22 March 2013

Exhibition preview: Twentieth century Chic, Sudley House, Liverpool, until March 2014

A photo of a lavish purple dress on a mannequin
An evening dress from the late 1950s
Marking 100 years in fashion and social change, this collection of costumes reflects key socio-political moments in women’s history and the colossal vicissitudes which affected the role of women during the 20th century.

Exhibiting iconic styles from 1900 to 2000, the showcase features key pieces by designers such as Mary Quant, Ossie Clark, Jean Muir, John Bates, Vivienne Westwood, Stella McCartney, Christian Dior, Yves St Laurent, Andre Courrèges and Dolce & Gabbana.

The collection interrogates wider social changes affecting women during a period which spanned two world wars, the effects of which significantly altered style and cultural conceptions of women.

The exhibition begins with a Belle Epoque evening dress from around 1907. This elaborate, corseted garment, made from layers of cotton velvet, silk and lace and festooned with jet beads and sequins, is a beautiful example of delicacy and luxe, yet keenly establishes the severe restrictions women faced during the period in which it would have been worn.

Outfits made shortly after the First World War provide prominent examples of the extent to which changes were occurring. Clothing which signified a life of constraint and limitation was being replaced by pieces which reflected women achieving power and momentum in all aspects of life.

A silk lamé evening dress from the twenties demonstrates a new trend for simpler lines, new cuts which gave a boyish appearance and garments designed with fun rather than function in mind.

A rayon taffeta evening gown from two decades later conjures an atmosphere of Hollywood glamour and an end to wartime restrictions in the late fifties.

Designed to fold around the body in order to produce an avant-garde, sculptural effect, this piece would have been influenced by Christian Dior's 'New Look' collection of 1947.

The rapid progression of science, technology and communications was mirrored by fashion designers who synthesised cultural changes in order to project a sense of innovation and achievement.

A monochrome John Bates dress from the sixties alludes to an era in which costume symbolised creativity and the breaching of boundaries. As a designer, Bates is perhaps best known for his creations, worn by Diana Rigg, for the TV series The Avengers.

During the 1980s shoulder pads and power dressing emerged, personifying women’s demands to be viewed on equal terms in the workplace.

Superb examples of this trend can be seen towards the end of the show, when this textile-based illustration of women’s history takes a turn toward the nineties.

The exhibition is concluded by a collection of garments which not only symbolise how fashion reflects social change, but also highlight the influences of the clothing market and the significance of celebrity.

A nylon, spandex skirt by the prominent label Moschino demonstrates fashion’s overwhelming response to the modern age and represents the crucial presence and symbiosis of branding and endorsement in the world of style.

  • Open 10am-5pm. Admission free. Follow the museum on Twitter @sudleyhouse.
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