As a volunteer for Royal Pavilion & Museums within the costume collection, I am privileged to be able to have a good look around within the dress collection.
They seem to me to be brimming over with a thousand stories; they’ve seen countless parties, weddings and first dates, through to riots, arguments and even battles. The energy and life that they symbolise is fascinating to me and one particular section that always seems to have an energetic story to tell is the collection of sixties and seventies garments. There are some beautiful and interesting examples of clothes from the popular London boutiques that were iconic at that time.
Two pieces that caught my eye recently were a minidress made by Ginger Group, one of the lines under the Mary Quant name, and a wool coat by Biba. The Quant minidress is dated from 1965 and displays the simple lines that characterised Mary Quant’s style but it is made in a fabric slightly different to the look that she is remembered for. It is constructed in a surprisingly rough wool and features scalloped edges with machine stitching in a vibrant purple thread. It also features a machine embroidered flower on the chest; a signature element that focuses on many Quant designs. The Biba coat is a calf length flared design dating from 1970-75; it has a really interesting cut, which is accentuated by the mixture of ways in which the stripe of the fabric is arranged.
Being young enough to have not been around in the heyday of the youthquake and the sixties boutique, I tend to view it through rose tinted glasses. But I love the thought of a teenager somewhere back then lusting after a minidress by Quant in the way that I lust after a pair of Kurt Geiger shoes. I can also picture that same teenager then going out and buying their cheap imitation from a high street shop, just like I do with my party shoes. If there is one thing that doesn’t seem to change about fashion is that it inspires desire and I love that.
Kate Cutlan – Volunteer for the costume collection