Costumes and textiles
Maidstone Museum’s ‘Dressing Rooms’ – or Costume Gallery – shows a chronological progression of the changing shape of women’s dress from 1800 to 2000. The display incorporates underwear, accessories, children’s garments, and doll’s clothes from each decade, all complemented by paintings and photographs from the collections.
As you walk through the gallery, you are able to appreciate both the changing shape of women’s dress and the cyclical nature of fashion. Discover the Grecian-inspired empire line of the early 1800s, and admire the body-covering fashions and the crinoline skirts of the Victorian era. As we leave behind the 19th century and enter the 20th, hems rise then fall again through the succeeding decades. Women’s figures become moulded with restrictive foundation garments and corsets reappear in the mid-20th century. As society’s attitudes change to dress, so the clothing on show reflects the freedom of choice (and movement) that women are able to make. Don’t miss the pregnancy corset, Victorian wedding dress, and liquorice allsorts dress.
The costume and textile collection consists of approximately 7,800 items. Collecting started in the 1950s, and originally consisted of some good examples of 17th and 18th -century costume and textiles, together with a good basic collection of several hundred 19th-century costume items and accessories. During the 1970s, a conscious effort was made to develop the collections in the field of 20th-century fashion and, at that time, Maidstone became one of the first provincial museums to specialise in contemporary costume collection. This in turn led to the acquisition of two large collections of couturier and designer garments, including pieces of Hartnell, Givenchy, Dior, Jean Patou, and Balenciaga.
The collection was further enhanced by the donations of the entire wardrobe of Doreen, Lady Brabourne, consisting of 1,500 items dating from the 1930s to the 1970s. The ‘High Street’ end of the fashion market has also been comprehensively collected, often by local purchases. In connection with the Carriage Museum collections, a small group of coachmen and footmen’s liveries is held and has recently been enlarged by the rare transfer of a group of similar material from the Victoria & Albert Museum.
The museum also holds costume accessories, including headwear, shoes, and bags and, to a lesser extent, male and children’s costume and accessories. The needlework collections are varied and contain a number of outstanding early pieces and 20th-century embroidered maps and samplers, primarily from the large Ellis Collection.