Crafting Everyday Fashions in the Twentieth Century: An analysis of handmade womenswear and accessories in the Worthing Museum costume collection
University of Brighton
Year of enrolment: 2019
This collaborative project will explore how WMA's twentieth century costume collection can enhance understanding of home-made womenswear, with a focus on millinery and the production of accessories. The costume collection at Worthing Museum (WMA) includes 30,000 items, making it one of the UK’s largest. A 2018 survey, Dress Collections in Museums and Other Institutions in the South, South East and South West of England described it as ‘a gem’. Rather than collecting expensive garments worn by famous people or created by celebrated designers – as has been the priority of other museums – WMA’s atypical collecting practices offer a unique opportunity for the analysis of non-elite dress and the dissemination of high fashion into the wardrobes of ordinary women. This remains an under-researched area of fashion studies. Based on the collection’s holdings, this research will develop new lines of enquiry into aspects of hat making and wearing, c.1910-1960, when hat-wearing was an everyday practice for women across all social classes, and dressmaking skills were a part of many women’s domestic repertoires. This research will develop collectionsbased historical research alongside community activities – including making workshops, oral testimony collection and an exhibition – working with local groups and enhancing audience development and public engagement. This research is timely as WMA enters an exciting phase of structural and conceptual redevelopment. Through a multimillion-pound ambitious new project, "Let the Light In" will substantially remodel the Museum. WMA aims to become a centre of excellence by establishing a Costume Research Centre as a regional and national resource that will approach its collection from a new perspective, working with today’s designers, makers, students and historians. This project will thus generate original academic research in an undeveloped area of dress history and contribute significantly to WMA's cultural outputs at a time of significant institutional transformation.