Ahead of its opening in 2 weeks, Costume and Textiles placement Kay Eggleston gives us a behind the scenes look at preparing for the Fashionable Yorkshire exhibition!
“You don’t alter a Vera Wang to fit you, you alter yourself to fit Vera”.
Although I am not working with a Vera Wang, the principle is the same when padding up mannequins for the Fashionable Yorkshire exhibition. I take a basic body block, normally a size 8/10 and I add all the lumps, bumps and unique body shapes in order for the garment to fit perfectly on the mannequin.
The process is quite simple. Using wadding layers I focus on areas like the bust, hips, back and stomach, and build the shape of the body using the measurements taken from the garment. Many of the garments in the Fashionable Yorkshire exhibition were made especially to fit the women, and this means you can find unusual measurements: for example a dropped left shoulder, or being shorter in the back than you are in the front.
There are various reasons why you must mount costumes for an exhibition. One is to support the garment in areas of weakness, to show the historical silhouette, as mounting can recreate the body as if it were wearing all the appropriate undergarments like corsets and bustles.
And (of course!) you do it so that the garment looks nice! See below the difference it makes on the 1790 Quaker dress, before it had padding and once it was finished. The shape is completely wrong without the padding, but with it, the dress looks beautiful and enhances the silk fabric and pleats.
When mounting the 1790’s open robe dresses, the mannequins required some slight plastic surgery, which involved several bashes to the bust with a hammer! This may sound extreme, but it was required in order to create the flat bust common in this period. The flat bust allows the stomacher to sit better on the mannequin, which then further helps the open robe dress to do the same.
The blue silk open robe needed a petticoat, stomacher and a ‘bum roll’, which sits on the hips and gives the skirt more of a shelf to sit on, meaning you get the lovely fall as seen here.
There are variety of body shapes that we have recreated for Fashionable Yorkshire, and the mannequins show how body shapes have changed throughout time. However, the exhibition also shows how the body changes with age. This is shown here with Mary Holden Illingworth’s mannequins:
You can see how in the first image she is younger with a very petite figure, and then as she aged (and gave birth to 5 children!) her body shape inevitably changed. Although she always maintained an amazing sense of style!
My favourite part about mounting costumes is seeing the finished result and realising how padding up mannequins can easily turn a lifeless dress into to a Vera Wang.
By Kay Eggleston, Costume and Textiles Placement
Fashionable Yorkshire opens on the 17 March in the Fashion Galleries at Lotherton.