If clothes could talk...
Fashion can inspire both shock and admiration. It can also reveal fascinating insights into history. If the garments in our collections could talk they'd have many tales to tell. Discover the stories of clothes worn during fierce battles, colonial parties, revolutions and much more.
As France spiralled into revolution, were these the garters that its queen – Marie Antoinette – wore under her extravagant dresses? Inspired by designs in late 18th-century false teeth, Belgian dentist Vanbuchel encased rows of tiny brass springs in silk, to make the garters. He had to ensure they held stockings up effectively without cutting off blood supply and causing varicose veins. This was a luxury most of the queen’s subjects would not have had to worry about.
Canon and musket fire would have whistled past this coat's leather sleeves during the English Civil War. It is a lucky survivor of some of the war’s major battles. The buff-coat and doublet was worn by Sir Jacob Astley, a Cavalier commander. He fought in the Battle of Newburn Ford in 1640 which broke out after Charles I tried to force a new prayer book on the Scots. The fine gold and silver stitching exemplifies the style for which the Royalist side become known.
You can see the outfit along with a portrait of Sir Jacob wearing a similar coat at Seaton Delaval, Northumberland.
A dress fit for a coronation
Lady Curzon wore this ‘peacock dress’ at an extravagant ball held to celebrate Edward VII’s coronation in Delhi on New Year’s Day 1903. She was wife of the Vicerory of India; together they arrived at the festivities with the maharajahs, riding on elephants with huge gold candelabras attached to the tusks. This celebration was known as the Delhi Durbar and was described as ‘the greatest pageant in history’. Lady Curzon’s peacock dress drew much attention from the world press. It is made of gold cloth and embroidered with peacock feathers. In the ‘eye’ of each feather, there is a shimmering green beetle wing, which many mistook for emeralds. To complete the spectacular look on the day of the ball, the skirt was trimmed with white roses.
See the dress at Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire.