Saturday, 30 May 2015

Riviera Style

Over the Bank holiday weekend I took the opportunity to visit the new exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum in Bermondsey. The FTM is one of my favourite museums, in part due to its very chilled and friendly atmosphere: you really feel that you can get up close and personal with the clothes and I always leave with my head full to the brim with inspiration.

The museum's latest offering is 'Riviera Style: Resort and Swimwear since 1900'. On display is a wide variety of beachwear throughout history, spanning Edwardian-era knitted bathing costumes, to fifties patterned playsuits and the more revealing cut away bikinis of the 60s and 70s.
The swimsuits from the turn of the century were perhaps the most fascinating to see in real life (see below). I was amazed how these little pieces of fashion history have survived all these years. The demure pantaloon-style suits were made of thick cottons or heavy wools that soaked up the water like nobody's business, making for a challenging paddle in the sea. Never have I felt more grateful for the invention of lycra!

It was only until the early 60s that truly practical swimwear really took off, until then there was a lot of making do with hand-knitted costumes and shearing elastic which sagged and filled up with water when you attempted to leave the pool! But the lack of synthetic fabrics and swimwear technology was not at the expense of style. The 1920s and 30s, one of my favourite eras on display, was when 'riveria' style was born, and beachwear became chic and glamorous. As you can see in the photo above, Japanese-style kimono jackets and slouchy pyjama bottom in gorgeous prints were all the rage, as were chic rubber swimming caps much like those worn by Keira Knightley in the film Atonement. 
Many of the items on display were of course nautical-inspired. Blue and white stripes, anchor motifs and brass buttons were in abundance throughout almost every decade. Sailor suits were popular as childrenswear at the turn of the century, thanks to Queen Victoria's penchant for dressing her children in them (even as a 90s child was put in an M&S sailor suit aged 2!). There is also a whole room dedicated to Amber Jane Butchart's new book 'Nautical Chic' (I reviewed it earlier on my blog here) which goes into more detail about our fascination with sailor style, and it was lovely to see some of the clothing featured in the book out on display.

There's definitely something about the seaside that makes us want to dress up and show off. The image below shows outfits a family of four might don when taking in the sea air in the early 1900s. These heavily starched suits and dresses were probably not the most comfortable of outfits on a hot summer's day, but were perfect for to show off for Sunday best. Fast forward through the decades and beachwear still needs to impress. From the sumptuous, oriental-inspired kimonos of the 20s to the barely there monokinos of the 70s and the teeny-weeny Daniel Craig Speedos of more recent times, beachwear seems to have always been an excuse to flaunt our fashion credentials.
Although I'm not all too great at dressing for summer (I blame this on typically rubbish British weather), I now feel a lot more prepared after this exhibition and have an army of ideas for summer outfits. If you're in need of some summer style inspiration, or just fancy gazing at some beautiful pieces of vintage clothing, I'd heartily recommend popping along to the FTM for inspiration. I'm particularly coveting a floral playsuit or some wide leg trousers. Now to book that holiday! Xx

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