Silhouette - Fashion From 1870-1950 At Guildford House Gallery

By Narelle Doe | 11 January 2007
A long white 19th century dress with black detail, short sleeves and matching parasol.

Image courtesy Guildford House Gallery.

Exhibition preview - Silhouette: Streamlining Fashion is on at Guildford House Gallery from January 8 to February 11 2008.

Fashion-lovers will be in for a treat this winter as a parade of costumes from collector Marion May marks ten years of costume displays at Guildford House Gallery.

The extensive collection of this local costume collector includes wedding dresses, evening dresses and lingerie from the last two centuries.

Marion May first started collecting costume in 1978. It was her involvement in the 1977 Jubilee Pageant costume that sparked her interest in vintage clothing rather than theatrical. Over the years her collection has grown to over 100 pieces.

She has now completed over 20 exhibitions of her costumes, and this year marks her tenth year of exhibiting at Guildford House Gallery.

The exhibition examines the fluctuating silhouette of female fashion from 1870 to 1950 in stylish black and white fabrics. This era saw huge changes in women’s wardrobes due to sweeping social change, two world wars and manufacturing advances for fabric making.

A muslin afternoon dress from c.1870, and an assortment of bustle dresses, offer a glimpse of fashions in the 19th century. Treats from the 20th century include a black net evening dress c.1900, and a black and a white Ascot dress from 1913.

A long evening dress with black lace detail, short sleeves and white veil.

Image courtesy Guildford House Gallery.

Fashion, as with attitudes to women, was completely overhauled with the advent of the First World War. Afternoon dresses from the 1920s and 1930s reveal the daring androgynous and flimsy fashions of the flapper girls – a world away from the demure voluminous clothing worn by the previous generation.

Before the war women had been physically, and socially, restricted by their long costume fashions. With the war came sweeping social change and more freedom for women, reflected in their style of dress.

Hemlines continued to rise to just below the knee. In the 1930s dresses became more feminine again, partly due to the new availability of luxurious materials like silk and velvet.

The Second World War put a stop to such excess and shortages in material and supplies dictated fashion to become more simplistic with practicality firmly in mind.

Two models wearing dresses from the 19th century, one in a white dress and parasol, the other in a black dress with a white lace collar and bonnet.

Image courtesy Guildford House Gallery.

This exhibition is a strong reminder that fashion always goes in circles. Many of the costumes from the 1920s onwards could easily be seen on the catwalks today or worn as retro-chic. Here is a fashion show from our past that also tells the story of the changing role of women.

Marion May will be giving an illustrated talk on this section of her costume collection on Thursday 7 February 2008 in the Brew House at 1pm. Places for this lunchtime talk are free, but space is limited so early booking is essential. Call 01483 444742 or book online at

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