London’s Fashion and Textile Museum presents Riviera Style: Resort & Swimwear since 1900.
Curated by Dr. Christine Boydell of De Montfort University, the display explores more than one hundred years of clothing worn in and by the sea.
Riviera Style is a joint collaboration between the Fashion and Textile Museum, Newham College and Leicestershire County Council Museums, whose major collections have provided most of the items featured in the exhibition.
Riviera Style – Highlights of the Exhibition
Highlights of the exhibition include Edwardian bathing dresses, hand-knitted swimsuits, and glamorous swimming costumes worn by Britain’s seaside beauty queens, as well as barely-there Lycra costumes and a 21st century burkini.
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Perhaps we have gone full circle from the cover-all days of the Edwardians, to the ever-shrinking swimwear of the 1960s-90s, and now we see the burkinis, which many Muslim women favour and many others adopted, once again covering all!
Presenting a social history of holidays, Riviera Style shows how our attitudes to modesty have changed since the turn of the 20th century.
We also learn how new technology has fueled rapid changes, bringing exciting new fabrics to beach and swimwear fashions. The introduction of new materials that didn’t sag or bag when wet was a key factor in the development of swim and beachwear designs. In addition, recent technological advances have given us improved fit and increased speed in the water.
Dr. Christine Boydell speaks exclusively to Decoded Past
Dr. Christine Boydell, leading design historian specialising in the history of fashion and textiles, is Subject Leader for Critical and Contextual Studies at De Montfort University, Leicester.
Her recent publications include Horrockses Fashions: Off the Peg Style in the 40s and 50s. Dr. Boydell also curated an exhibition of the same name at the Fashion and Textile Museum. Dr. Boydell spoke exclusively to Decoded Past to discuss this exhibit.
Decoded Past: Can you tell us more about the collections of Leicestershire County Council?
Dr. Christine Boydell: Leicestershire County Council have a large fashion collection. Within that, they have this fantastic swimwear collection that has come from the Symington’s archive. The collection is interesting because none of the items have ever been worn so they are in pristine condition. These form the core of the exhibition.
Decoded Past: You recently curated the Horrockses Fashions exhibition. These are two very different exhibitions so how did your approach differ?
Dr. Christine Boydell: In some ways it didn’t. What you see in this show is that I’m always interested in the objects, and showing images of the objects on people, be they professional models or ordinary people. I’m always interested in the ordinary person.
Decoded Past: Has your research shed new light on our relationship with swimwear, beachwear and the body?
Dr. Christine Boydell: I think probably, originally it was about fabric. There’s not a lot written about fabrics used for swimwear. I’m always interested, I was with Horrockses, in the relationship between fashion and fabric. I suppose that’s the bit that’s original.
Decoded Past: During your research was there anything that particularly surprised you?
Dr. Christine Boydell: Yes… I think it was the images of men in swimwear. I was quite surprised. The men’s trunks with the lacing, that was very surprising.
Then there’s the men’s enhancing trunks – I didn’t know they existed until I started doing research.
What was also new for me was all the stuff on resort wear, so I’ve learned a lot.
Decoded Past: Did you have to make any difficult decisions about what to include or exclude?
Dr. Christine Boydell: Oh my goodness! There’s just so much that we could have included. A lot of people, once they knew I was curating the exhibition, contacted me to say ‘I’ve got this – do you want it?’ I couldn’t keep adding because we already had more objects than we’ve ever had in a Fashion and Textile Museum show.
So it was very difficult, but we’ve tried to pick representative pieces. For example, the ruched telescopic suits – there were loads of those – but I could only pick a few. I chose some early ones, and some with nice prints, from the 1950s.
Decoded Past: What is your favourite item, and why?
Dr. Christine Boydell: My favourite is the strapless skirted ballerina-style suit. It’s blue with a pink print.
Riviera Style: Resort & Swimwear since 1900 at the Fashion and Textile Museum
So do we cover it, or reveal it? Is it the burkini, the bikini or the briefest of swimming trunks?
Across British and European beaches it seems that anything goes. The low-tech hand-knitted swimsuits of my childhood have gone. High-tech fabrics and wonderfully flattering swim and beachwear are the new order of the day.
Riviera Style tells us how all this is possible. Riviera Style: Resort & Swimwear since 1900 is open from 22nd May to 29th August 2015.
Visitors to the Fashion and Textile Museum will also enjoy Rayne: Shoes for Stars, running concurrently with Riviera Style.
Curated by author/historian Michael Pick, the exhibition presents a century of sensational shoes created for some of the world’s most glamorous women. Information about both exhibitions is available from the Fashion and Textile Museum.