August 30, 2013

The Bath Fashion Museum

It is a dream of many costumers to visit the fashion museum in Bath, England and it is understandable why. Their collection is varied and contains some of the best examples of early historic dress still around. I visited twice within a few months while studying abroad, seeing the same exhibits both times.

The Silver Tissue Dress!!!!

I have to say, I think I built this museum up too much in my mind before I visited because I admit I was a bit disappointed! (unpopular opinions!) I did have the misfortune that while I was there the museums largest exhibition gallery was closed while they transitioned between exhibits so I did not get the full experience. Though their collection is wonderful it just wasn't displayed to its fullest potential. The "behind the scenes" style displays in the windows seemed crowded and so dim it was hard to see some of the details. As a textile museum student I know that light and textiles don't mix and how easily garments get damaged but those cases I felt were particularly dark. It was still amazing to see these beautiful garments but it was a shame I didn't get to see the largest gallery in action as from some online sleuthing it seems that gallery has the best set up.

Another thing that bothered me was that there was no catalog/book of the collection for sale to get a better look at the garments and the parts of the collection not on display. I have long loved the fashion in detail books and beautiful books from the Kyoto Fashion Museum and was hoping to add such a book to my collection from the museum in Bath. I understand to do such great quality books it takes a lot of time and money, but with something fragile like costume I feel like it is really worthwhile to document the artifacts in a permanent way. From a purely conservation standpoint, no matter how low the lighting or controlled the storage eventually these items will fall away to dust and the only way to provide a permanent record and resource is to photographically catalog the collection.

From a costumer's point of view, catalogs (both online and in book form) can provide not only inspiration but also reference for accuracy research. I really hope it is a plan of the Bath Fashion Museum to do such a comprehensive photographic preservation in the future and to make it somehow available to the public. The museum's website says that though they have 80,000 objects that they are still working to create a comprehensive list of the items in house. I really wish I was a multi-millionaire so I could just donate whatever resources it would require to have a catalog (photographic and archival) done for this collection.

I feel like I have judged the museum harshly, this is purely because I have had the fortune to visit several collections and this was not my favorite display. I think the museum overall is probably one of the best and that their collection is certainly one of the greatest. I realize the V&A probably have more money to throw around and that they are doing the very best they can with their resources in Bath. I definitely still recommend visiting this museum, it is very worthwhile if you are interested in historic costume. Though I have reviewed it harshly it is one of the few places in the world to see such amazing historical pieces of clothing. There are few clothing and textile museums out there and all hold value for the truly interested. I have visited collections in much worst state of display and preservation and at least everything in the museum in Bath is well taken care of and I am sure their facility is held to the highest standards of archival collections. I would say, however,  to make sure all of the galleries are open when you visit for the maximum benefit!

(please forgive me if any of this review came off as costumer blasphemy! I tend to judge textile museums harshly as I spent the last year volunteering in the CSU textile museum so I have studied the topic quite a lot!)

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