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The F-Word: The Changing Language of Fashion

Start Date 14 February 2015
End Date 22 March 2015
Venue Killerton House, National Trust
Location Exeter, UK
Curator Shelley Tobin
From a 150-year-old crinoline to a 60s mini, garments have shaped not only their owners but also the face of fashion. Zips, buttons, elastic – items now taken for granted were revolutionary in their day. They changed what could be worn and also helped people dress faster and with ease. The language of fashion is often bound to the technology and materials used to produce it. Whalebone and then steel hoops, elastic, rubber and plastics transformed the way clothing works, and created fortunes for inventors and manufacturers.
In the 2015 exhibition, we told the story using select pieces from KIllerton’s extensive collection. Some of our favourites included:
  • Man’s coat, made of silk woven with metallic thread in about 1690
  • Jacquard woven silk afternoon dress, about 1860, highlighting advances in silk weaving (the Jacquard looms, with punched cards controlling the pattern weaving, inspired Charles Babbage who came up with the idea for the first computer)
  • Woollen wedding dress, knitted on a domestic knitting machine in1971, when the trend for home knitting machines was at its peak
  • Mini dress made of Crimplene (one of the new synthetic fabrics) in a bright psychedelic print. Minis were at their shortest by about 1969
  • Elegant mini and jacket by Emanuel Ungaro, about 1966
  • Gold nylon and lurex ballgown by Maryon, late 1940s. Nylon and lurex were new man-made fibres developed in the 1930s
Technologies that were revolutionary in their time shaped the fashion industry. The first water-powered mills, rotary printers and synthetic dyes and materials eased what was a cottage industry into the world of mass production and fashion for all.
“Throughout history, fashion has not only reflected social and technological changes, but also led the way.” – Shelley Tobin, Costume Curator, Killerton.