The collections at The School of Historical Dress form an integral and multi-faceted part of all of the activities undertaken by the School. The collection of textiles and dress ranges from 1600-year-old linen pieces to modern day slide sandals and reflects our motto ‘anything anyone ever wore’. All the taught classes utilise items, allowing students to see and sometimes handle real examples of the garments and techniques being studied. Weight, feel and drape of fabrics can be looked at to gain an appreciation of how these differ from modern materials. The growing number of School publications in Janet Arnold’s Patterns of Fashion series include patterns taken from extant garments and so cut and construction may also be studied in detail.
With no external funding, we cannot meet prices that pristine dress sometimes fetches at auction but items that are not in perfect condition tell their own stories by revealing content and construction. Tears, alterations and wear reveal layers of lining and stiffening materials, the order in which they were applied and the types of stitching used to attach them. Along with examples of the thrifty use of expensive fabric, reuse and recycling of materials is often discovered such as printed paper used to stiffen a letter pocket and shadowing on velvet where metal braid once was before being removed historically to be used elsewhere.
Text by Niki Miles.