Women Fashion Power: Exhibition at the Design Museum

Exhibition continues until April 2015

For today’s entry: no book! Last week I visited an exhibition called Women Fashion Power at London’s Design Museum, and for anyone interested in any of those three topics it is absolutely riveting.

The show looks at the history of clothes, including underwear: corsets are always a great interest here on the blog, including last Sunday's entry, and there are plenty of them on show here. There is more detail as the timeline heads into the 20th century, and the Museum uses magazines and photographs as well, and looks at the influence of film and TV on fashion.

There is another timeline looking at women in power from the earliest times – Boudicca - to modern times, and considering what they wore.

The third section of the exhibition is perhaps the most fascinating: the Museum asked 25 modern women to contribute an outfit each, and to write a piece ‘sharing their personal style philosophy’ - that's the display in the picture above.

Those taking part include Anne Hidalgo, the Mayor of Paris, fashion designer Vivienne Westwood, journalist Kirsty Wark and many other businesswomen, entertainers, and activists.

Among the other items on display there are suits worn by the former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who died last year. She was a great one for formal suits:

There were two blog entries on her appearances in fiction  last year – in Alan Hollinghurst’s Line of Beauty here, and Hilary Mantel’s An Experiment in Love here.

Other blog entries of relevance:

 - Louisa M Alcott argued strongly for Rational Dress in her book Eight Cousins – she wanted to put corsets on the fire.

- Fans of Margery Allingham’s Fashion in Shrouds – set in a fashion design studio – can be conflicted: key character Val is a hugely successful designer and businesswomen, but at the end accepts a proposal of marriage that some of us who love the book find difficult to swallow:
'Will you marry me and give up to me your independence, the enthusiasm which you give to your career, your time and your thought?'

- Virginia Woolf has some fascinating thoughts about women and clothes in Orlando:
Vain trifles as they seem, clothes have, they say, more important offices than merely to keep us warm. They change our view of the world and the world’s view of us…. Had [men and women] both worn the same clothes, it is possible that their outlook might have been the same...

- Dorothy L Sayers' alter ego Harriet D Vane has this to say in Have his carcase:
Were men really stupid enough to believe that the good old days of submissive womanhood could be brought back by milliners’ fashions? ‘Hardly’ thought Harriet ‘when they know perfectly well that one has only to remove the train and the bustle, get into a short skirt and walk off, with a job to do and money in one’s pockets. Oh well, it’s a game, and presumably they all know the rules.’

- Samantha Ellis’s terrific book How to be a Heroine, a look at our female role models (?) in literature would also make great reading for anyone interested in this area. 

- Noel Streatfeild’s Ballet Shoes takes clothes very seriously – but that is so her young heroines can get jobs (dancing and acting). They are going to use clothes to get economic independence, freedom, the ability to do what they want. And, of course to get the name Fossil into the history books.


Women Fashion Power is a fabulous exhibition, very thought-provoking, but fun and informative at the same time. Highly recommended. The Design Museum is opposite the Tower of London on the other side of the Thames, and the exhibition is on till the 26th April.

PS I was lucky enough to go with my daughter: there were plenty of other mother/daughter pairs there, and it is the ideal way to see the exhibits – when it gets to the 60s/70s/80s sections you can lecture your daughter about which outfits you once had resembling those on show…. and she can laugh at you.


  1. Moira - LOL! I know that laughter well; I've heard it.... The exhibit sounds absolutely fabulous! I'm so glad you took the time to see it, and I'm happy you posted on it. So many interesting changes in women's fashions just in the last two hundred years, let alone before that. I'd love to visit the exhibit myself.

    1. Something tells me all mothers with daughters know that feeling.... Pity it's so far away isn't it, I'm quite sure you would love it.

  2. Hmm.....would love to visit but I think I'm having my head boiled in treacle - far less painful in my opinion, but I am glad you enjoyed it.

    Is Noel Streatfeild a distant relation to Dominic Streatfeild? It's an unusual name - so just wondering if there may be a connection. I've read his books.

    BTW every time you mention your Noel, I get an Image of Noel Fielding popping into my head...bizarre. I guess you couldn't find a couple less alike.

    1. Such a waste, Col - you could easily nip down and see it and won't, while Margot right above you would love to come and is too far away!
      You must be the only person in the world who thinks Dominic Streatfeild is more famous than the revered Noel. But you made me laugh a lot with the idea that she might be confused with Noel Fielding....

    2. Moira my ignorance actually is limitless.......I thought Noel Streatfeild was a dude, a geezer, a bloke! My bad....still I'm not one for hiding my ignorance under a bushel. I'll confess.

      I'm forever after going to be seeing Noel Fielding whenever you mention her in future.

  3. Sounds like a great exhibit, and I would love to see the corsets. And maybe hats? I am not into hats for myself, but like to look at them.

    1. I'm trying to think - not THAT many hats at the exhibit. Surely there must be a hat museum somewhere....?

    2. Well, my first response to that was that maybe when women wore hats, they were not in power. But then the same could be said for corsets.

    3. I must ask my daughter if she remembers any hats, it may be that I just didn't notice them....


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