Riviera Style at the Fashion and Textile Museum

The sun shone for my first visit to the Fashion & Textile Museum in south London yesterday to see their Rivera Style exhibition of resort and swimwear. Billed as charting resort and swimwear since 1900, the exhibition starts with the earliest incarnations of swimwear from the 1890s.

Cumbersome with much coverage, these wool resort designs, incidentally taking much from the nautical theme of the smaller exhibition to accompany Nautical Chic by Amber Jane Butchart – http://ftmlondon.org/ftm-exhibitions/nautical-chic-by-amber-jane-butchart/, look decidedly uncomfortable. I can only imagine the bagginess (wool isn’t known for its clinging properties after all) and stench when wet! Overdresses and knickerbockers, kept a woman well and truly covered.

Victorian swimwear - oh so covered up.  Versatile (?) wool swimsuits, perhaps not the best option for a dip, but more practical for a British summer
Victorian swimwear – oh so covered up. Versatile (?) wool swimsuits, perhaps not the best option for a dip, but more practical for a British summer
Less coverage but oh so masculine - it's difficult to tell the different between male and female attire
Less coverage but oh so masculine – it’s difficult to tell the different between male and female attire

As the twentieth century dawned, a more leisurely and luxurious lifestyle followed, along with developments in fabrics. By the 1920s and 1930s the fashion for skin exposure (previously a suntan was a sign of a rural or land worker) saw a dramatic reduction in the size of the swimsuit, albeit by no means as itsy-bitsy as today’s. The post-war era saw yet other changes with a move towards sculpture and the body.

The exhibition is split into chapters (covering around 20 to 30 years) to categorise the changes in fashions and lifestyle.

It's not Chanel, but it certainly channels the designer's resortwear
It’s not Chanel, but it certainly channels the designer’s resortwear
A rise in swimwear for all social classes in the 1950/1960s as holidays became more accessible and pageants became popular
A rise in swimwear for all social classes in the 1950/1960s as holidays became more accessible and pageants became popular
One could almost be looking at modern swimwear with the sculpting and flattering gathers
One could almost be looking at modern swimwear with the sculpting and flattering gathers
Revolutions in fabrics from the 1960s onwards
Revolutions in fabrics from the 1960s onwards
Swimsuits become more daring as our bodies become more toned
Swimsuits become more daring as our bodies become more toned
Sorry folks, had to include!
Sorry folks, had to include!
Into the 21st century, our bodies are more toned, and fabrics are more sophisticated
Into the 21st century, our bodies are more toned, and fabrics are more sophisticated

Whilst the Fashion & Textile Museum is a small space, I particularly loved the staging of this exhibition. The 1930s and 1940s pieces set in a Lido, with the 1950s and 1960s pieces forming part of a beauty pageant, of which both settings formed a huge part of the culture of the time.

I am sure it is no coincidence that accompanying this exhibition is a small display to promote work for fashion historian Amber Jane Butchart who explores fashions enduring love of all things nautical.

Well worth the trek from London Bridge Tube station if you have an hour to kill in the City.

 

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