Displaying Dress: New Methodologies for Historic Collections

  • Eleanor Wood

Student thesis: Phd


At the beginning of the twenty-first century British costume museums were failing to attract audiences; consequently, all but the Gallery of Costume, Manchester and the Fashion Museum, Bath were closed to the public. This thesis has sought to examine the traditional display methodologies of historic costume museums, using the Gallery of Costume as its primary case study of practice. This investigation problematises the theoretical assumptions upon which the gallery's display methodologies are founded and compares its approaches to those taken in contemporary displays of historic dress. The findings of this investigation have been used to propose new approaches to the display of historic dress that aim to engage contemporary audiences.Using the research methods of participant observation, interviews and archival research the first chapter of this thesis outlines the development of the Gallery of Costume's display methodologies, highlighting the agency of individual curators. The next two chapters explore the ways in which curators of dress reconstruct the bodies and personalities that give form to worn dress in the museum. The thesis moves on to examine both the methods by which the Gallery of Costume's constructed history in its displays of history and the theoretical assumptions underlying its historiography. This chapter is followed by an exploration of the performance of fashion within the museum, attending to the way in which exhibitions can express dress as 'living' concept within accepted conservation guidelines. Finally, this thesis outlines a framework upon which reflexive exhibitions of historic dress can be built.
Date of Award31 Dec 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorHelen Rees Leahy (Supervisor)


  • Museums
  • Costume
  • Dress
  • Doris Langley Moore
  • Anne Buck
  • Biography
  • Body
  • Historiography
  • Mannequin
  • Manchester
  • Gallery of Costume
  • Curator
  • Fashion
  • Exhibitions
  • Display

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