Their Fight Our Future: costume display for the 100 year anniversary of the Representation of the People Act

Created by students from Northbrook MET

As part of our 1918-2018: 100 years Remembrance Season, and to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the Representation of the People Act, students from the Foundation Level 5 Costume for Performance and Film, MET, are displaying newly created dress inspired by extraordinary women from history.  

This blog post was written collaboratively by the students involved.

The year is 1880. Nine women go about their lives as a mother, wife, social activist, physician, astronomer, explorer, photographer, suffragette, nurse and a trailblazer of their time. They would never have imagined that 138 years later they would be remembered for their hard work through nine costumes that pay homage to not only their gender, but also to their fight for a seat at a table which was dominated by men.

This isn’t our first time exhibiting our costumes, but it is our first time exhibiting outside of our university. Our last exhibition showcased our first year as costume students at Northbrook MET, and was met with great enthusiasm from staff, students and visitors, with our immersive set creating a new world which everyone could walk around. The exhibition was inspired by Spirited Away, the 2001 Studio Ghibli film; we reinvented the whole movie using a 1775 set and hung the costumes from trees.

As our first exhibition was such a success, our lecturers encouraged us to display our next project in an exhibition to celebrate the women we were honouring with our costumes. It is particularly fitting, as this year is the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act, which meant that women over the age of 30 could finally vote.  As second year students, our costumes were more complex and the workload significantly increased, but the outcome was more rewarding.

We started by making a corset, bustle and petticoat; these were very intricate makes – especially the corset – as there was a lot of pinning, hand sewing, sewing, re-sewing, unpicking and then sewing again. The most important part of this project was not to give up – to persevere even when we had stitched the panels upside down and the wrong way around. After seven weeks of intense historical pattern cutting, designing, stitching and ironing, our costumes were completed. We all used the same starting points and had the same tutors on the project and yet it is so interesting how everyone’s costume has turned out slightly differently, reflecting the unique way we have made and constructed our garments.

Our top skirt and bodices were the only pieces that were decorated individually to fit our women; we used different techniques to do this, such as stencilling, screen printing and using a pen and ink to embellish our costumes. Thankfully these things were made available to us at university, through our textiles department, which has a lovely print room and an incredibly patient technician who helped us make the impossible possible.

We are eternally grateful to Brighton Museum for hosting us and our costumes and for the support and encouragement of the Northbrook MET staff who helped us get to where we are now. We hope to see you at the exhibition in February and later in March, to celebrate women who paved the way for our future. We hope that we inspire you to look into the history of each woman and see their plight and struggles, and be thankful for their fight, our future.

The students will be in MuseumLab talking about their creations on Tuesday 6 and Wednesday 7 February ‘Behind the Scenes’ open afternoons, 2-5pm, as well as Brighton Museum’s International Women’s Day celebration on Saturday 3 March.