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Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Playing dress-up at the Bath Fashion Museum

Much like wealthy of yesteryear, when the Ministry need a weekend away we put the spa town of Bath at the top of our list. Sadly unlike the highest classes of Georgian Society, we were not there for the season nor to spend entire days in the hot baths (well…not the whole day anyway). But when the Ministry travel you can be sure that museum visiting is still high on the agenda. So, it may not be a London museum but today’s post is about our wonderful neighbour to the West, the Bath Fashion Museum.

Ok I'll admit I liked this pretty dress
I am not really one for fashion or textile museums. Doesn’t really interest me, I find the interpretation generally pretty boring and staid. I’ve been to see the new fashion galleries at the V&A and found them well, a bit blah. Mannequins in period-era scenes. The development of the corset-induced profile. Tiny shoes. Whatever.

The Bath Fashion Museum knows it is essentially a museum of pretty dresses and you know what? They are ok with that. The Museum is currently showing an exhibition called ’50 Fabulous Frocks’ to celebrate the decades of fashion represented in their collection, and it’s one enormous room full of, you guessed it, mannequins in dresses. What really shone was the audio tour. Each dress was accompanied with a short audio clip which essentially ran: When/where/ how the dress was made in two sentences and another brief phrase or two about why the dress is interesting. Amazing! It shouldn’t be this novel, but the approach was so refreshing. Tell me what I need to know and something I might like to know in 30 seconds so I can actually process it. Genius! The commentary wasn’t dumbed down, it was just succinct and exactly what a non-specialist wanted to hear.

Getting into the spirit of things
Now I couldn’t review this museum without telling you they have ADULT DRESS-UP! You heard me, adult dress-up. A whole room dedicated to ‘Dress Like a Victorian’ with corsets, hoop skirts, top hats, bonnets, coats and dresses all for real-life adults. Hear this all you other museums who think dressing up is only for children, you are missing out on a hugely key audience. Adults want to have fun too! And have fun I did. Possibly too much fun.

Just when I thought I couldn't like the Fashion Museum any more, I came across their ‘Behind the Scenes’ displays. Essentially they have converted their store rooms into open store displays organized by decades. Not only do the public get to have more access to the collections, but you get to physically see how delicate textile collections are stored. Plus (and this cannot be emphasized enough) it saves expensive space. Open storage is something that I think really adds so much to a visitors experience and it was great to see how it was done here.

Impeccable open stores

Essentially the Bath Fashion Museum took a die-hard cynic of textile museums (moi) and turned me into a twirling 10 year old, seduced by adult-size hoop skirts and a comprehensive audio tour. It may not be London, but the museums in Bath are on to something. 

The Fashion Museum at the Assembly Halls: Admission fees apply (unless you are a Museums Association member!) 


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