Skip to content

Dressed to Impress

Start Date 05 September 2018
End Date February 2021
Venue Walker Art Gallery
Location Liverpool, UK
Curator Pauline Rushton

LIVERPOOL.- A stunning collection of 18th century fashion items is on display at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, from 4 August 2018 to spring 2020.

Showcasing 13 male and female costumes as well as accessories, Dressed to Impress: Fashion in the Eighteenth Century highlights changing attitudes towards body shapes as well as documenting the social climate of the time.

Pauline Rushton, Senior Curator at National Museums Liverpool, said: “We’re incredibly fortunate to be presenting these exquisite items from our collections together for the first time in this display. Visitors to the Walker Art Gallery will enjoy not only the variety and detail seen in 18th century ways of dressing, but also learn about some of the social issues at play throughout the century.

“These beautiful pieces demonstrate how fashion can be an important vehicle for exploring everyday life in past centuries.”

The clothes in the display are typical of the main fashionable styles worn by the middle classes, known at that time as ‘the middling sort’. These people were neither rich nor poor, and often wanted to improve their social standing. Examples of their clothes to be seen in the display include a pair of ‘stays’ (a laced corset), formal female dresses, and elaborately embroidered men’s waistcoats with hand cut sequins known as ‘spangles’.

The display also includes a number of important accessories, such as a pair of women’s shoes with overshoes for outdoor wear to protect the feet against the unsanitary conditions in the streets. The accessories on display include two men’s wallets, one of which belonged to John Bridge, a Liverpool merchant heavily involved in the transatlantic slave trade. Money acquired from his activities would have been kept in this wallet, which is embossed with Bridge’s name in gold lettering.

As well as containing reminders of Liverpool’s past involvement in the transatlantic slave trade, the display provides some fascinating insights into how clothing helped to foster idealised body shaping, both for women and men.

The display includes a rare pair of men’s stockings – one of just a few surviving pairs remaining in the UK– with padding designed to accentuate the calf area, from an era when it was deemed important for men to have shapely calves.

This is the first time that the stockings, made from knitted silk and lambs wool, are displayed at the Walker Art Gallery, although they have previously been shown in museums in New York and Los Angeles.

There are two videos on show in the gallery, depicting how 18th-century men and women were dressed by their servants.