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Killerton's fashion collection

Tilly amongst dressed mannequins for Killerton's 2024 fashion exhibition
Tilly amongst dressed mannequins for Killerton's 2024 fashion exhibition | © Steve Haywood

Killerton house is home to the National Trust’s biggest fashion collection, with more than 20,000 items of historic clothing and accessories. The core collection, which includes pieces from as far back as the 17th century, was begun by Paulise de Bush before it was first shown at Killerton in 1978.

New 2024 fashion exhibition

'Playing by the rules: Childhood, dress and imagination' is now open daily upstairs in the house until Sunday 3 November, 11am - 4pm (last entry 3.30pm).

Playing by the rules: childhood, dress and imagination

Join us for the very exciting new fashion exhibition in 2024, themed around childhood. The exhibition will draw on the Killerton collection and explore children's clothing of the 19th and 20th centuries, many of them part of the Margaret Bodley collection of children's clothes which was acquired by the National Trust in the early 1980s. We're having fun with the theme, highlighting formal clothes and fancy dress, more practical clothes for active play, and uniforms for school and work. It's not all about the clothes though, a selection toys and games from the collection will also be on display.

Five local Brownie and Guide units have been working with us to produce future fashion designs, along with taking on the task of 'young curators' for one of the display areas. There'll be plenty to get involved with too, find activities for younger visitors throughout the exhibition.

Playing by the rules: shildhood, dress and imagination, is playful and colourful! There's plenty of opportunities to join in the fun while exploring the differences between dress now and in the past, from the fantastic and luxurious to the practical and comfortable.

What’s in the collection?

What started out as the collection of one woman, Paulise de Bush, has grown since it arrived at Killerton. It now contains a huge selection of men's, women's and children's clothing and accessories.

The oldest piece is a men’s sleeved waistcoat dating from 1690. However, it’s 20th-century fashion that’s particularly well represented, with a large number of couture pieces from big-name designers such as Chanel appearing in the collection.

The collection includes many examples of evening and day wear, as well as accessories including shoes, jewellery, fans and handbags.

Exhibiting the fashion

The vast collection is meticulously cared for. As it’s impossible to display every item at once, the fashion team create regular exhibitions on the first floor of the house. Each exhibition showcases about 80-100 items from the collection.

Collection contributions

Regrettably, we’re not able to accept any additions to the costume collection at this time.

Shelley Tobin installing the newly conserved Diana dress for the 2024 fashion exhibition
Shelley Tobin installing the newly conserved Diana dress for the 2024 fashion exhibition | © Steve Haywood

Who was Paulise de Bush?

During the Second World War, Paulise de Bush, who lived near Aston Tirrold in Oxfordshire, noticed that her uncle, Victor Anger, was having his house cleared out. Items being removed included a huge selection of period clothes, mainly dresses from the 18th and 19th centuries.

Not wanting to let such beautiful costumes go to waste, Paulise bought many of them for use in her drama group, The Stockwell Players.

Building a mighty collection

Paulise became an enthusiastic collector of both theatrical and historical costumes. Some of these were used in her theatre productions, but she also began exhibiting the costumes. She then befriended a lady named Atherton Harrison at a Women’s Institute talk.

Atherton was trained in theatre design, while her husband, Harvey Harrison, was a filmmaker. In 1965, the three put together a 35-minute film featuring Paulise’s collection, called Fame and Fashion.

The collection comes to Killerton

Before Paulise died in 1975, she asked Atherton to make sure that the collection went somewhere it would be shared and viewed. True to her word, Atherton found a home for her friend’s vast period costume collection at Killerton, just as the house was opening to the public in 1977.

Paulise’s collection has been cared for, and added to, by the Costume Team here ever since. Atherton was consulted on the fashion displays at Killerton until she retired in 1994.

A view of the study room at Killerton, with red walls and two grey sofas

Killerton's objects and collections

Explore the objects and works of art we care for at Killerton on the National Trust Collections website.

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