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Kent looks back on its fashion past with the help of Maidstone Museum's dressing room collection

Whether you embraced the shoulder pads or would rather forget them entirely, one place in Kent you can look back at fashion favourites from the 'good old days' is Maidstone Museum.

Its dressing room collection, which has more than 8,000 pieces, pays homage to some of the most popular designs telling a story of how women's clothing developed with time.

The Dressing Rooms collection. Picture: Maidstone Museum
The Dressing Rooms collection. Picture: Maidstone Museum

On display at the museum in St Faith's Street are items dating all the way back to the 1800s to the early 2000s.

But despite the vast history it represents, the glass cabinet that brings the most nostalgia, and perhaps the most popular, is that of the 1950s to 2000.

From flares to turn ups, the collections manager Samantha Harris says this is the display that always gets people talking.

Miss Harris said: "The way the gallery is organised is by different time periods to try and highlight those different changes in fashion and body shape and often that's linked to politics, in particular women's roles in society, so that was the thinking behind the gallery.

"It doesn't just show nice pretty things people were wearing, it tries to tell some of the story behind what influenced fashion through those periods.

The Dressing Rooms collection. Picture: Maidstone Museum
The Dressing Rooms collection. Picture: Maidstone Museum

"Going back to the earlier costumes, people recognise some of the items because they look like stuff they've seen in period dramas, TV programmes and films.

"But because its organised by time period, it's the very end case that people can associate with because that starts from the 1950s going through times they remember.

"Representing the 1960s, we've got a really lovely op-art dress and knee-high boots and platforms and I think there's an element of nostalgia with those items."

The collection says the 'Swinging Sixties' which was a phrase used to describe a time when the fashion was influenced by pop music and colourful prints.

Traditional styles went out the window in favour of creating lively, inventive clothes where hemlines rose to well above the knee.

Mrs Roome (left) from Dover with her dear friend in 1964.
Mrs Roome (left) from Dover with her dear friend in 1964.

One of the most influential designers for women in that decade was Mary Quant.

In 1964, Shirley Roome, 71, from Dover owned a dress believed to be a replica of Miss Quant's which she bought from Richards on Week Street, when she lived in Maidstone.

Mrs Room who posed in the garden with her dear friend said: "We were probably around 14 or 15-years-old when we bought those dresses. We thought we were so much more feminine than a lot of the kid's fashion now."

The 60s was also the decade which introduced the mini-skirt. Maureen admired the new style which she sported in a bold print with her foster sister.

The now 70-year-old said the dress was bought from either Joyce's or Snob in Maidstone, brands which had a presence across the county until the 80s.

Maureen from the 60s
Maureen from the 60s

As Kent moved into the 70s, dress began reflecting ethnic cultures or retro looks from the 1920s to 1940s. Bright colours, textures and patterns were still popular but this time combined in eccentric, adult styles.

The 70s fashions tended to express a home-crafted, environmental awareness, encouraged by the anti-establishment hippie movement.

The collection then shows punk and sportswear began to influence high fashion moving into the 80s.

It says the ideal 80s woman was sporty, slim, muscular and ambitious, successful in work, relationships and leisure.

Fitness training became part of women's lives and trainers became the universal item of footwear. Styles were influenced by the television series ‘Dallas’ and ‘Dynasty’ which created the power woman.

Jo Hernon (middle) with friends Natasha and Sarah from the 'happy, care free days'
Jo Hernon (middle) with friends Natasha and Sarah from the 'happy, care free days'

Showing off her sporty style in striped roller blades, Jo Hernon from Harrietsham says she remembers the 80s as the happy carefree days.

Pictured with her friends Natasha Willicombe and Sarah Carne, Jo remembers buying the velour two piece from C&A sometime after 1985.

Maidstone Museum's collection says shoulder pads were also a popular choice for women exerting power.

Fast forward to the 90s and dress codes completely relaxed with jeans and leggings becoming more widely accepted.

The museum's research says this decade blurred the age differences with kids, parents and the elderly wearing virtually the same casual, sport separates and bright colours.

Emma Bilham from Ashford shows the 80s were also famous for blue jeans and pixie hair cuts
Emma Bilham from Ashford shows the 80s were also famous for blue jeans and pixie hair cuts

Sportswear was generally accepted everywhere. Body piercings and tattoos became popular with the general 90s message stating 'be who you want to be'.

Turning 30 this year, one of the most popular influences of 90s fashion was the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The comedy starting Will Smith highlights the popularity of bright colours and distinctive trainers.

Those wanting to take a trip down memory lane and visit the permanent costumes gallery at the museum will be able to do so from today.

It will reopen its doors to the public with social distancing measures in place including a one-way route. Visitors will also be encouraged to book their free visit in advance through the museum website.

To find out more about how to book your slot, visit the Maidstone Museum website here.

Read more: All the latest news from Maidstone

Read more: All the latest news from Kent


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