Stylish Yorkshire days out: The best fashion history exhibitions from Kate Moss catwalk photos to Vivienne Westwood mini-crinis
British fashion history runs through Yorkshire, flowing along its rivers and canals, where former mills, many now converted into apartments and offices, once sent out its woven cloth to distant lands.
Yorkshire has been producing cloth since the Middle Ages, when wealthy monasteries made use of the fleece from the sheep that roamed their vast acres of land. The Industrial Revolution saw processing and weaving become increasingly mechanised and West Yorkshire’s waterways proved ideal for powering the mills large and small that sprung up across the county, but concentrated in West Yorkshire. Bradford became the wool-making centre of the world while Leeds pioneered ready-made clothing in the 1850s, when John Barran founded his wholesale clothing factory in Alfred Street.
Made-to-measure tailors grew to have their own shops and factories. From the 1930s to the 1960s, Leeds companies produced about half of Britain’s tailored suits. Burton’s was the biggest, with more than 10,000 workers making 30,000 suits a week at its Hudson Road factory, then the largest clothing factory in the world.
Joseph Hepworth & Son began in 1865 and operated from Providence Works on Clay Pit Lane in Leeds. By 1905 it had 143 shops and in 1983, it became Next. But by then, cloth and clothing could be produced far more cheaply in other countries, and Yorkshire mills could not compete, many firms gradually sinking out of business.
The technology that played such a pioneering role in the history and development of fashion and clothing can still be seen at Armley Mills in Leeds and Moorside Mills in Bradford, both now industrial museums, while Sunny Bank Mills, once a hub of worsted production, is now home to artists and creatives, has a wonderful archive room, and is where BBC show The Great British Sewing Bee is filmed.
And there are still great Yorkshire mills producing quality cloth used by Savile Row and world-leading fashion and design houses. Names such as Abraham Moon, Hainsworth, Joshua Ellis, WT Johnson, Dugdale Bros, C&J Antich, Alfred Brown, Hield Bros and Clissold continue Yorkshire’s manufacturing legacy.
Here are some fascinating exhibitions currently telling the story of Yorkshire fashion and textile creation.
Catwalking: Fashion Through the Lens of Chris Moore at Cannon Hall Museum, Cawthorne, near Barnsley
Running until November 5, this is a collection of images by venerated fashion photographer Chris Moore, charting the changing face of the fashion industry over six decades, capturing era-defining fashion moments from the 1960s salons of André Courrèges to the rise of the supermodel, as Linda Evangelista, Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell dominated the catwalks. There is also behind-the-scenes and interview footage with the man himself.
Running alongside is: A Male Perspective: Redressing Fashion, with clothes collected over 40 years by Barnsley-based salon owner Simon Nicholls. The exhibitions are free to visit. See https://www.cannon-hall.com/whats-on/catwalking-fashion-through-the-lens-of-chris-moore
Shaping the Body at York Castle Museum
A permanent exhibition looking at 400 years of fashion, food and life, with fascinating exhibits including an iron corset, some pantaloons from the time of Jane Austen, bum rolls and a killer dress. Long before the age of the digital camera, the selfie and social media platforms, British women and men loved to showcase their best bits and were prepared to go to extreme lengths to conform to trends, dieting and wearing clothes that changed their shape. Shaping the Body is included in the price of admission to York Castle Museum.
Opening the Wardrobe at Bankfield Museum in Halifax
Showcasing Yorkshire’s influence on global fashion and textiles, and vice versa, Bankfield opened as a museum in 1887 and features exhibits from around the world. including from Ancient Egypt, The Balkans, China, Japan and India. There are also spinning wheels and looms for techie lovers.
Opening the Wardrobe - The History Wardrobe Collection of Lucy Adlington runs until December 23, celebrating women’s clothes and the stories they tell, with highlights from the private collection of the engaging dress historian. There is an event, History Wardrobe Presents - Divine Deco, The Art of the Dressmaker, on Saturday, September 16, from 6.30pm.
Also at Bankfield is A Hat for all Seasons, an exhibition looking at the style, function, and symbolism of headwear in British society, which runs until September 30. For both, see https://museums.calderdale.gov.uk/whats-on
A Private Collection of Vivienne Westwood at The Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle
It is well worth a little trip up to County Durham for a dash of Westwood, and this exhibition gives a fresh and fascinating take on the late designer's career through the eyes of Peter Smithson, a teacher from Cumbria who began his collection in the 1980s when he was bowled over by the sight of models wearing tartan bondage trousers on BBC’s The Clothes Show..
With a particular focus on the years from Mini-Crini (1985) to Storm in a Teacup (1996/97), this wonderful display in the Fashion & Textiles gallery includes a star-printed sphere crinoline from spring/summer 1986 set near a crinoline from 1869, as well as a number of historic bustles from the museum's stored collections. It runs until February 4, 2024,
The Marks & Spencer Archive, Michael Marks Building, University of Leeds
Celebrating the role that M&S has played in British society since 1884, when Michael Marks opened a stall at Kirkgate Market in Leeds, this is a wonderful space, filled with yesteryear’s fashions and adverts, with a cinema, a replica Penny Bazaar shop and a dressing-up corner where you can wear the same clothes that your gran or great-gran once wore.
The M&S Archive is open Monday-Friday, 10am to 4pm (closed bank holidays). The second Saturday of every month is Crafty Saturday, with free crafts and refreshments.