Curator Vanessa Jones adjusts a red suit on a mannequin as part of the Fast x Slow Fashion exhibition at Leeds City Museum

New exhibition at Leeds City Museum

An elegant exhibition charting Leeds’s 300 year journey from textile trailblazer to one of the nation’s top shopping destinations has opened style today.

Bringing together an eye-catching collection of clothes, accessories and historic photos, Fast x Slow Fashion: Shopping for Clothes in Leeds, 1720-2020 will be at Leeds City Museum from today (Friday, February 14). It explores the changing face of the Leeds high street and how the city’s own unique sartorial style has evolved through the ages.

Changing habits and new fashions

Drawing on both Leeds Museums and Galleries’ impressive collection of textiles and outfits and the individual memories of people who have lived, worked and shopped here, the exhibition will look how the way people consume fashion has changed.

It will also examine how the city became home to some of the nation’s top designers and retailers, sparking a retail boom which has seen a number of huge shopping complexes open in Leeds.

Vanessa Jones, Leeds Museums and Galleries’ assistant curator of costume and textiles has spent months going bringing the exhibition together.

She said: “Fashion and retail have been two huge driving forces behind Leeds’s economic success over the last three centuries and have helped shape the city and the high street we know so well today.

“But changing styles, trends and the clothes people have worn also mirror the many different ways society and its attitudes towards everything from gender to diversity have developed through the ages.

“By looking back at the how the way we dress and the way we shop have evolved over time, we can see how clothes have been a way for people to express themselves as individuals and to show how they feel about the city where they live.

“It can also shed new light on how people in the past have, out of necessity, consumed more sustainably and how much we can learn from them today.”

Key highlights to see

Highlights of the exhibition include a fascinating series of photos of Leeds landmarks including Briggate and The Headrow as they looked in the past.

Also featured are a series of outfits worn by local Leeds people, either bought in the city or further afield.

A 1881 dark red silk afternoon dress worn by Elinor Gertrude Lupton is just one of many highlights, displayed alongside contemporary examples from Maya Jagger, who collected a number of garments that had been left on the streets around Hyde Park when students moved out of rented accommodation last summer.

The exhibition also examines the rise of ‘fast fashion’ and the growing calls for more sustainable ways of consuming clothes.

Councillor Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council, said: “Modern Leeds quite rightly has an impressive reputation for shopping, and retail is one of the cornerstones of our thriving economy.

“The foundations for that economic success were laid centuries ago by the textile pioneers who helped Leeds become a world-famous industrial powerhouse.

“It’s important that, through imaginative exhibitions like this, the link between the bustling city we know today and the rich history and heritage of Leeds is never lost.”

Fast x Slow Fashion: Shopping for clothes in Leeds, 1720-2020 will be at Leeds City Museum until 21 June.

The museum will also be hosting a conference on March 13 entitled Fast x Slow Fashion: Experiences of Fashionable Consumption, 1720-2020.