The Fashion Museum is taking a jump back to the 19th century with a new permanent display which draws on its world-renowned collection of historical fashionable dress. Words by Jessica Hope

Following the success of the Fashion Museum’s Royal Women exhibition which closed last month, a new permanent display showcasing selected items from the 19th century from the museum’s outstanding collection is opening in May – and don’t assume it’s just morning suits and big black dresses and petticoats, the Victorians knew how to play with colour and weren’t afraid to show it.

The new display, entitled Collection Stories, allows visitors to see a number of the exceptional pieces that have previously been hidden in the museum’s archives. From shoes to waistcoats, hats to wedding dresses, the items will provide a top-to-toe glimpse into the varying styles, fashions and technologies that changed throughout the 19th century, as well as the stories of the people who once wore them.

Purple silk satin shoes richly embroidered with glass beads and diamanté, about 1898

One item featured, displayed among the museum’s clothing rails and storage boxes, is a vibrant red striped plush stole lined with strawberry pink silk, dating from about 1812. The item has been in the collection since the museum was first established in 1963 by fashion historian Doris Langley Moore, who once wrote to the stole’s donor revealing that this was one of her favourite pieces in the museum.

One of the stars on show is a wedding dress worn by socialite Emily Poor in 1900. The dress, which is in impeccable condition, was made by designer Mrs O’Donovan and has all the traditions of a wedding dress you could expect, including a wax orange blossom as her something old, detailing made from the trim of a handkerchief as her something borrowed, and blue ribbons on her garters as something blue.

The display also reflects on men’s fashion and features a man’s waistcoat from the 1850s that was once worn at Queen Victoria’s royal court. The cream waistcoat, covered in intricate, brightly coloured silk embroidery, demonstrates how while court dress for men had not changed much since the previous century, they were able to add elegant details and splashes of colour to brighten their clothing, as well as reflecting the pomp and ceremony of court.

Cream silk waistcoat with coloured silk embroidery, 1850s

The museum will also be opening another display this month called Fashion Focus, which will provide regular changing displays that go into further detail into the history of fashion. The first display, Little and Large, presents the museum’s rare antique doll collection, some of which were once used by shopkeepers to display their new clothing ranges to potential customers. Mirroring the dolls’ clothing are examples of items once worn by adults in the 1870s and 1880s.

Collection Stories follows on from the museum’s other permanent exhibition, A History of Fashion in 100 Objects, and allows us a peek behind the scenes at the Fashion Museum’s remarkable items and the unique stories each piece has to tell.

Collection Stories is open from 17 May at the Fashion Museum, Bath and is included in normal admission; fashionmuseum.co.uk

Featured image: Cream silk satin wedding dress with a wax orange blossom corsage and needlelace trimmings, 1900, worn by Emily Poor