Fabulous fashions at Abbey House’s He She They? exhibition

22 February 2019

A collection of fabulous fashions worn by tiny trendsetters from the past century has proved a perfect fit for a group of young history lovers in Kirkstall.

The team of budding curators raided the vast wardrobe store of Leeds Museums and Galleries to bring together a new exhibition charting the evolution of children’s clothes from Victorian Britain up to the modern age.

The exhibition at Abbey House Museum, entitled He, She, They?, looks at how clothes have been made and styled for boys and girls to suit the trends and traditions of different eras, and how children’s clothing has evolved to become much less gender-specific today.

he she they abbey house 2

The museum’s Vintage Youth Club, a group of young people aged 13-21, chose the subject for the exhibition themselves and co-curated it alongside experts, inspired by a sepia photograph of a little boy named Clifford Jobbins taken in 1898.

The photo of young Clifford shows him wearing a full-length white dress along with his first pair of trousers, which the group learned was called breeching.

During the Victorian times, boys were breeched from six years old up to the age of eight, as a symbol of growing up, a cause for celebration among family and friends. Victorian girls, on the other hand, had to adhere to strict rules on skirt lengths and hem lines.

Clifford’s picture encouraged the group to find out more, sparking a journey through the archives which included the iconic flapper styles of the Roaring 20s, colour-branded designs of the 1980s up to modern day gender neutral clothing.

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Angie Thompson, Leeds Museums and Galleries’ youth engagement officer, said:

“Looking back through the collection has been a real revelation for the group and they’ve been able to see first-hand how clothes and gender roles have evolved not only to suit fashions and trends, but also to mirror the changing roles of adult men and women.

“The way parents have chosen to dress boys and girls through different eras has often reflected their hopes and aspirations for their children, the type of society they wanted them to grow up in and the opportunities they wanted them to have.

“The exhibition is particularly inspiring because the group chose the theme and subject matter themselves, so it really is their story being told how they want it to be told, which is the most powerful message of all.”

The exhibition also charts the subjects including the revival of knitting and the growing demand for ethically sourced clothes and materials.

It also tackles the sometimes contentious modern issue of slogans and how some major retailers have been encouraged to ditch gender-specific labelling, branding and marketing.

He, She, They? The Changing Face of Children’s Fashion, runs at Abbey House Museum until January 19 2020. If you are interested in joining The Vintage Youth Club and wish to co-curate more exhibitions at Abbey House Museum, please email Angie Thompson via youth.curator@leeds.gov.uk

For opening times, prices and more details, visit the website.

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