Fashion and Style Gallery, Brighton Museum & Art Gallery

Fashion & Style Gallery 

The Fashion & Style gallery draws on Brighton & Hove Museums’ costume collection to produce displays that explore a series of inter-related themes. The themes selected reflect different aspects of Brighton life.

Fashion & Style Gallery
Fashion & Style Gallery

The current displays in the gallery are grouped into four areas:

George IV – presents items associated with the king responsible for the creation of the Royal Pavilion and making Brighton fashionable.

Internationalism – explores cross-cultural influences on fashion.

Renegade – reveals alternative styles of clothing.

The Collection – illustrates highlights from our costume collection.

After Thomas Lawrence, The Prince Regent in his Garter Robes, 1819
After Thomas Lawrence, The Prince Regent in his Garter Robes, 1819


George IV

Today, George IV is usually regarded as a fashionable and often extravagant dresser. His interest in his clothes and appearance was evident at an early age. In letters to his first mistress, Mary Hamilton, George often enclosed his tailor’s patterns and swatches of fabrics for her approval. Even in his late teens, he was already aware of his large figure, and described himself in a letter in 1778 as


‘Now approaching the bloom of youth, he is rather above the common size, his limbs well-proportioned, and upon the whole well made, though rather too great a penchant to grow fat … As hair is generally looked upon as a beauty, he has more hair than usually befalls to everyone’s share’.

This early interest in fashion and his appearance continued throughout his life and resulted in his spending large amounts of money on his clothing. In 1791, he owed £31,912 (equivalent to £1,720,000 today) to his tailors, as well as £1,875 (£100,000 today) to White & Thomas for breeches alone. By 1795 George had extensive debts and was forced to marry Caroline of Brunswick, who remarked:

‘I ought to have been the man and he the woman to wear petticoats … he understands how a shoe should be made or a coat cut, … and would make an excellent tailor, or shoemaker or hairdresser, but nothing else’.

George’s excessive lifestyle was much lampooned by the press and was most evident at his spectacular coronation in 1821. Based on the Elizabethan period, the costumes were partly designed by George himself. When George died in 1830 many of his splendid suits were auctioned; only a few of his everyday clothes survive. These items were often given by George as gifts to his staff. Passed from generation to generation they have survived as family heirlooms.



The costume collection, with its links to the Royal Pavilion built and decorated in an Indo-Chinese style, contains many garments influenced by the countries along the Silk Route: Turkey, Iran, India, China and Japan.



As international trade routes flourished during the 17th and 18th centuries, the colours and patterns of Indian and Chinese textiles became fashionable in Europe. The Indian shawl is a luxurious example of this influence.

The term ‘shawl’ comes from the Persian shal, referring to a woven woollen fabric made from pashm (goat’s wool). Shawls were precious – they were hand-woven and took two to three years to make. Traditionally worn by men at Indian courts, they were given to important visitors, who wore them over their shoulder or around their waist.

From the 1770s Indian shawls were imported to Europe by the East India companies. Appreciated by women for their style and warmth, they quickly became the essential fashion accessory.

‘…Mrs Hastings tied a shawl round me before going out in the garden and I thought it a delightful trick of fortune to have placed me beside the Governor of India … wrapped in an East Indian material more costly than silk, much lighter and also much warmer than the latter’ : Sophie von la Roche, 1786.

To cope with increased demand, not only did European merchants travel to India with orders and pattern books to suit the home market, but also manufacturers in Norwich, Edinburgh, Paisley, Lyon and Vienna produced imitations of woven and printed shawls in the Indian style.

Chintz banyan worn by George IV when Prince of Wales, 1780s
Chintz banyan worn by George IV when Prince of Wales, 1780s


Internationalism: historical style

Dress from other cultures has been worn in Europe since the 17th century. An early example was the morning gown or banyan, forerunner of the dressing gown, worn by men. These would have been worn over shirt and breeches on informal occasions.

Morning gowns were often made of Chinese silks, Indian chintzs (painted or printed cotton) or European imitations.

They came in many shapes and styles. Early examples were loose fitting, made from a flat-cut shape, open at the front, and in some instances cut like Japanese kimonos.

Other varieties, called banyans after the Hindu word for a trader, were fitted to the body with inset tailored sleeves and double-breasted fronts. These were sometimes decorated with elaborate cord fastenings.

From the late 18th century women’s fashion incorporated Asian and Asian-influenced textiles and accessories such as the shawl and fan. However, it was not until the late 19th century that women in Europe started to wear clothes from other cultures, such as the kimono and Chinese robe, but only in private. These garments could be purchased from ‘oriental warehouses’ such as Liberty, which opened in London in 1875.

Early 20th century fashion designers were inspired to varying degrees by international influences, at the most extreme creating oriental fantasies or, more commonly, subtly incorporating details and motifs.

China has been a major source of inspiration for European designers. An early example are the woven silks during the early 18th century. These so-called ‘Bizarre’ silks, named for their oriental-style patterns, were woven in London and Lyons to compete with the newly imported silks from China.

Evening pyjama outfit, mid-1920s
Evening pyjama outfit, mid-1920s

Later, during the early 1920s, Chinese styles and motifs, such as the dragons embroidered on these pyjamas, were in vogue.

The term ‘pyjamas’ comes from the Persian ‘pay’ meaning foot and ‘jama’ meaning clothing. They were worn as informal wear during the 1920s-1930s and were one of the earliest acceptable forms of fashionable trousers for women.







Rockers at the Ace Cafe, London, 1999 (Photo: © Angela Charles)
Rockers at the Ace Cafe, London, 1999 (Photo: © Angela Charles)

Renegade: A person who deserts a party or principle (Oxford English Dictionary)

Dress is the most visible form of personal consent or protest. Throughout history groups of people have actively rejected the prevailing fashion to announce their alternative lifestyle and politics.

Since the social changes of the 1950s, young people have increasingly used clothing as a means of rebellion. At first there were few alternative street styles; the most notable were Teddy Boys and Rockers. Now there are many, of which some are new, some are revival and some mix elements from more than one style.

Royal Pavilion & Museums’ costume collection includes clothes chosen and worn by individuals belonging to a specific group or subculture.

Teddy Boys at the Teddy Boy Weekender (Photo: © Angela Charles)
Teddy Boys at the Teddy Boy Weekender (Photo: © Angela Charles)

Each outfit is a statement of self-expression chosen by one person, but at the same time can be clearly identified with a particular group.

The outfits are accompanied by a wealth of interviews, photographs and ephemera related to each group or subculture.







Jimmy Choo Sandals, 2001
Jimmy Choo Sandals, 2001

The Collection

The first donation to the costume collection in 1897 was an umbrella. Since then there has been growing interest in costume history and the evolution of fashion design. At present the collection includes some 10,000 objects, embracing men’s, women’s and children’s clothing and accessories.

We collect examples of costume of international fashion and style significance, especially those with local links. Most are offered as gifts by members of the public and designers. Occasionally we purchase pieces of exceptional interest.

The collection tries to reflect the geographic, social and cultural nature of Brighton & Hove’s community. The rich diversity of the collection includes objects made and sold in Brighton & Hove, those worn by local people and the historically outstanding.

Dress worn by Mary Eliza Catt, c1880
Dress worn by Mary Eliza Catt, c1880

This is a fashionable three-piece mid-Victorian dress consisting of plastron front (collar with modesty at front), bodice and skirt. It was made for Mary Eliza Gibbons of Lindfield, Sussex. She married George Henry Catt (nephew of Henry Willett) on 29 May 1879.The outfit was made by Madame Hawkes who was a local dressmaker who opened premises at 2 St James’s Place, Brighton in c 1867. This outfit would have been worn with a fitted corset and small padded bustle underneath.






20th Century Items

Reville evening coat
Reville evening coat

This coat is part of the Messel Collection – a large collection of clothes worn by the Linley-Sambourne and Messel family – on loan to the museum from Lord Snowdon, Lord Rosse and Linley-Sambourne House Museum.

Anne Armstrong-Jones (née Messel, later the Countess of Rosse) was a fashionable society member who bought many of her clothes from leading couture houses.

The house of Reville was founded by William Wallace Terry in 1906 and was based in Hanover Square, London. The Chinese-style motifs on this dress reveal an element of international influence.

Camiknickers worn by Lady Holman, 1940
Camiknickers worn by Lady Holman, 1940

This pair of appliquéd silk camiknickers is part of a trousseau (special clothes made for a bride) for Lady Holman’s second marriage in 1940.

It was made by Hermine who was based at 164 Bond Street, London. She made the most luxurious made-to-measure and intricately hand-worked lingerie.

Together with examples of 20th century lingerie the collection includes structured foundation garments such as corsets, girdles and cage-crinolines.

Knitted outfit by Martin Kidman
Knitted outfit by Martin Kidman

Martin Kidman studied fashion at Brighton Polytechnic (now the University of Brighton) and St Martin’s College of Art. He started his own label in 1993 and is best known for his knitwear.

The museum is particularly keen to collect items by designers who studied at Brighton.

Another designer featured in the gallery is Barbara Hulanicki who created Biba. She trained at Brighton College of Art and later opened a branch of Biba on Queen’s Road Brighton in 1966.

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