It was the decade that fashion will never forget and fashion-lovers will always revere. The 1950s was when fashion truly became something that everyone, of all ages, classes and bank balances, could aspire to and achieve. And this Sunday, August 9, there’s a chance to celebrate the fashions of the 1950s at Lotherton Hall’s Fabulous Fifties’ Fete, which also ties in with its Age of Glamour exhibition.
Lotherton Hall is a wonderful and rather grand Edwardian country house near Aberford, just off the A1(M) motorway, not far from Leeds. Once home to the Gascoigne family, in 1970 it became the home of Leeds Museums and Galleries collection of fashion and textiles. It holds more than 20,000 pieces from the 1600s to the present day, and has staged exhibitions for British designers including Vivienne Westwood and Jean Muir.
It’s a great place for a day out, with a lovely cafe and courtyard, lots of picnic areas and outdoor space to roam and run around, including beautifully tended gardens, plus an aviary of rare and endangered birds and (apparently, I have yet to see them) a herd of red deer and llamas. It also has an impressive collection of objets d’art on public display, and a wonderful collection of fashions through the ages. The Fabulous Fifties Fete will feature rock’n’roll, fun and games, live music, cars and the fabulous House of Rose & Brown Vintage Fair, with 25 stalls of fashions and homewares from the Twenties to the Eighties, with of course, plenty of Fifties’ inspiration.
In fact, the Fashion Galleries have just been updated and refurbished, and Age of Glamour – Fashions from the Fifties is the first exhibition to be staged at Lotherton Hall since they reopened.
It’s a truly fascinating peep into Fifties’ style, featuring couture alongside ready to wear. The launch of Dior’s ‘New Look’ in 1947 saw a style emerge that captured the imagination of the nation as the restraints of the Second World War came to an end and the people longed for glamour. This was a time when the department store began to rise, as did the High Street as we know it today.
The 1950s redefined style, as ordinary British women fell in love with fashion and fashion made itself more available to them, in a post-war period in which Britain found renewed growth, prosperity and zest. For women, it signalled a return to “femininity” and elegance, following years of austerity and utility wear.
The lingerie of the day tells the story, with displays of some beautiful but rather elaborate undergarments – the very foundations of the new shapes. The Fifties was very much about enhancing feminine attributes, like the bust and hips, cinching in the waist – a bit of a backward step in some ways as, in the ‘40s and war-time, when women started to go out to work because the men were off at war, they threw off a lot of the structured undergarments to give more movement. In the Fifties, they returned to structured garments, almost as if they had lost some of the freedom they had gained during the war as the domestic goddess became the ideal.
However, this was the dawn of High Street fashion as we know it today, with the start of mass production as department stores, including, in Leeds alone, Marks & Spencer, Marshall & Snelgrove, Schofields and Lewis’s realised that French designer looks could be copied and reproduced off-the-peg to cater for women who longed to inject glamour into their lives. This Parisian style was also captured and reproduced by clever at-home dressmakers, whose work can also be seen, and there are insights into the shopping and leisure habits of the period.
As well as Lotherton’s own archive, there are gowns on loan from the V&A, including a renowned red Ecarlate cocktail dress from Dior’s La Ligne Y collection of 1955, a 1951 ball gown by Cristobal Balenciaga Hall, plus pieces from Norman Hartnell and luxurious ready-to-wear dresses from British designer labels Frank Usher, Susan Small and Horrockses, who took a close look at what Paris was presenting to inspire their own creations for the UK market.
The exhibition also highlights strong links to Yorkshire and the North of England, with pieces lent from the M&S Archive at the University of Leeds. Photographs from fashion shows and society events taken by the Yorkshire Post are used throughout to illustrate the backdrops and give context.
Since the completion of the Fashion Galleries refurbishment programme, there are new cases and interactive elements such as sound and film, so, for example, visitors can listen to memories of shopping in Leeds in the 1950s.
The Age of Glamour exhibition is at Lotherton Hall, Aberford, near Leeds. For details and entry prices, see www.leeds.gov.uk/lothertonhall. It’s 11am-4pm and usual Lotherton admission prices apply. See also www.roseandbrownvintage.co.uk.