The Costume Collection

Sumptuous fashion and costume collections dating from the 17th century to the modern day

Delve into the museum’s sumptuous fashion and costume collections dating from the 17th century to the modern day in our Costume Gallery. These fantastic displays lead you through two hundred years of developing fashion and design, from tortuous corsets to stunning evening dresses. Aspects of each era’s social history are also brought to life with a selection of original everyday items alongside the costumes.

Christine Porch and Isobel Overton founded Bexhill Museum's costume collection in 1972. It began as a temporary exhibition in the Manor Gardens, celebrating the 1200th anniversary of the granting of the Charter by King Offa and the beginning of Bexhill.

The collection moved into the Costume & Social History Gallery in 2009. Social history, often called "history from below," examines how history affected ordinary people. Costume and social history collections provide valuable insights into their lives.

They show us what people wore, the items they used in their everyday lives, and the documents they left behind. We know more about wealthier people because they generally had more belongings to leave behind. Ordinary people had fewer things, which they used until they wore out. This makes these items especially rare and important.

The collection places the histories of communities, families, and their personal and working lives in their historical settings. This helps us to understand how our own lives connect with the wider world today.

The costume collection contains thousands of garments and accessories, including a late 18th century elaborately embroidered gentleman's coat, a rare mourning calash, and boned corsets. The museum also has dresses from the Romantic, Victorian, and Edwardian periods, plus those from the inter-war years. There is also a large accessories collection, including boots, shoes, parasols, fans, lace, shawls, and hats.

One treasure is a mourning dress worn by Queen Victoria in 1892 after the death of her grandson, Prince Albert, the Duke of Clarence. There's a dress worn by The Right Honourable Winston Churchill when he was aged four and a home-made "League of Health and Beauty" uniform from the mid 1930s.

Like all museums, Bexhill Museum holds far more items than it could ever hope to exhibit at one time.

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