FROM housewives to Hollywood glamour, a new exhibition in Woodstock showcases the changing face of female fashion across two world wars.

Keeping up Appearances journeys through the 1900s to the 1950s, following women’s wardrobes as they reflect the effects of female emancipation through the ages.

The collection of garments, shoes, fans, handbags and accessories begins its first tour outside Coventry at the Oxfordshire Museum today.

The museum, in Park Street, is hosting a collection of pieces that tell a story through time, focusing on how fashion evolved alongside women’s roles in society.

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Assistant curator David Howells said: “The exhibition covers the period from the beginning of the 1920s through to the end of the 1950s, covering a time when women’s roles changed greatly.

“Our clothes before the First World War include pieces from people taking part in Votes for Women, such as a suffragette sash and tea cosy with their logo.

“Many women were also still wearing all black and in mourning dresses at the end of the Victorian era, beginning to express themselves in looser clothing.

“The First World War saw women enter into the workplace, taking on lots more practical roles, as jobs normally held by men were opened up.

“The exhibition is looking at how it affected day-to-day life, people needed more comfortable clothing.”

Before the First World War, women were often expected to run the home and fashion was restrictive in reflection of this.

Outfits saw waist-synching corsets, high necklines and floor-length skirts the day-to-day norm.

Between the first and second world wars women were still wearing quite restrictive garments, before hitching up hemlines for more daring attire towards the 1950s.

The movement from housewife to home front saw women freed from confined homely fashions in an era of uniforms and practicality.

But the old pieces’ origins still have relevance today.

Mr Howells said: “We have pieces from the make-do and mend period, such as a bridesmaid dress from 1914, a beautiful costume dress from the 1920s with fringing and beaded detail, and a 1950s Dior dress which is one of the key pieces. Post-war aspiration came back into fashion.

“The exhibition shows a whole range of clothing that people can relate to.

“Some look very contemporary and some pieces look like they could have been worn today.

“It also shows that there have been times of austerity before and people have coped and reacted to them. I think all of the fashions will come back eventually.”

Hollywood film glamour took hold between both wars too, as women became more daring, with less structured and more free flowing fabrics.

A sense of escapism from the horrors of war saw the flapper era take hold across the 1920s, before the Hollywood glamour of films influenced 1930s fashion.

The collection of day-dresses, work wear, underwear, evening gowns, shoes and accessories shows what women wore and why, with period photographs showing the women who wore them.

Audience development officer at the museum, Lorraine Horne, said: “I envisage the exhibition to be very popular with people who have lived through some of these fashions but also those who have a soft spot for the fashion.

“There are some lovely items on show including the beautiful Dior dress that shows the sophisticated Hollywood glamour of the 1950s.

“The collection is provided by The Herbert Art Gallery and Museum and it is great to host the exhibition for the first time outside Coventry.”

The exhibition runs until April 12, and will feature talks including Dressing Oxfordshire, Fashion on the Ration and Dressing for War.

The first talk, Dressing Oxfordshire, brings together items from the Oxfordshire Museum collection with hints and tips on how to store and care for different materials.

It will give people information on how to look after their own personal keepsakes that may have been passed down from generation to generation.

The talk is on Saturday, January 24 at 3pm.

Witney Gazette:

Devina Newsome, touring exhibitions officer at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, with a 1950s Dior evening dress

Witney Gazette:

Witney Gazette:

A 1914 bridesmaid dress and a period sun hat, above

Witney Gazette:

Reign Wear vintage clothing shop co-owner Susana de Santos holding a 1940s house coat in purple and burgundy tonic fabric

Witney Gazette:

An advertisement for stockings in the 1950s

History behind the look

THE rise of vintage fashion on the High Street has seen fashionistas go ga-ga over historic garments. 
But rather than just being a fashion statement, stylish old-school outifits can belie their origins. 
And the new exhibition displays a plethora of rarities. 
Co-owner of Cowley Road vintage shop Reign Wear, Susana de Santos, said: “It is quite rare these days to come across clothes from these eras. 
“Women’s fashion has been influenced through history, like the militarian girls who were working in factories for the war efforts or the make-do and mend type of items that saw clothes being created from items like curtains. 
“Before the Second World War, clothes were still quite boxy in the shoulders and synched in at the waist, with quite mute colours. 
“Women wanted to inject garments, in the 1950s, with prints and patterns, moving out of austerity and living life a bit more.”



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