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All Dressed Up and Nowhere to Drive: mounting a historic costume


We recently loaned an outfit to the Hocken Collections for their exhibition We Drove Here: Hocken explores motoring history.

It's on until 13 February 2016, so go have a look if you're in town before then!

Their curators requested the loan of a skirt and blouse with a silk jacket, hat and boots from our collection and we were more than happy to accommodate.

Assessing the outfit

Having been packed away in storage for many years, the garments were not display-ready. Before they went out on loan they were sent up to our Conservation Lab for assessment.

In the lab, the objects were condition reported and thoroughly documented. Although showing signs of their age, the garments were very stable, so no major treatment was deemed necessary. We decided that specialised undergarments needed to be constructed so the garments would be fully supported on the mannequin, and the garments would be steamed to remove creases.


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 Customising the mannequin

The first step was locating a small enough mannequin. The high collar on the blouse was very narrow, and modern-day mannequins are often too large in areas.

Once we found a mannequin of a suitable size, we set about customising it to meet the specific needs of the costume. This involved fashioning soft arms out of calico and polyester wadding, and sewing petticoats out of calico and nylon netting to fill out the skirt.


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The blouse and skirt ensemble was made around the turn of the 20th century, and the slight bustle on the back of the skirt reflects the style of the time. To accommodate the gathers at the rear of the skirt, we made a bustle pad out of calico and polyester wadding.


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The final step in customising the mannequin was making a slip and bib out of washed white cotton. The bib sits between the costume and the undergarments and is visible through the cut-outs in the blouse and skirt.


Steam treatment

Once the undergarments had been constructed, the next task was to gently steam the costume using a garment steamer to relax the creases. As you can see, the results were quite impressive! This step was definitely the most satisfying.


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The final product

At the end of the treatment, the outfit's appearance was vastly improved. Minimal intervention, including conservation mounting and gentle steaming, were able to enhance the garments while respecting their age and history.


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