What Redbridge wore


A new exhibition at Redbridge Museum explores 400 years of local fashion through the museum's collections. Museum Officer Alex Lyons sheds some light on 'What Redbridge Wore'.

The exhibition opens with a copy of an impressive portrait of Sir Thomas Roe from 1610. Roe lived at Woodford Hall and is buried at St Mary's Church in South Woodford. In 1615 he was sent to India by King James I to act as ambassador for the East India Company (EIC). Thanks to his work, the EIC began to import Indian cotton textiles, which changed what people in England wore forever.

In his portrait, Roe is sporting a large ruff, a popular accessory in the late 1500s and early 1600s. Ruffs were expensive because they were hard to maintain as they needed constant starching. They sat under the chin, pushing it up, which gave the wearer a haughty and dignified expression, a look synonymous with wealth and power. This theme continues with two specially commissioned replica dresses on display. The first dates from 1770 and is made from chintz, a hugely popular Indian printed textile of the type worn by the wives of wealthy merchants in Wanstead and Woodford. The second dress is a Regency gown from 1815 and is modelled on an outfit worn by Catherine Tylney-Long, owner of Wanstead House from 1805 to 1825. Catherine's dress has a high waist and flowing fabric, which loosely followed the contours of the body. The dress was worn without restrictive corsets and was influenced by the neo-classical style of ancient Greece and Rome, which was popular in art, literature and fashion from the late 18th century.

Until the advent of washing machines in the 1950s, clothing would have been washed by hand. The exhibition features a Victorian laundry room, complete with tub, washboard and mangle, which will no doubt spark many memories for older visitors who remember Monday was always 'wash day'.

The displays examine everyday clothing for work, rest and play taken from Redbridge Museum's collections. First World War soldiers' uniforms, nurses' gowns and a 1960s police officer's ceremonial jacket show the variety of occupations that rely upon a uniform. During the Second World War, many local people donned such a uniform as illustrated by a Wanstead and Woodford ARP Warden's boiler suit. Fred James of Herongate Road, Wanstead, was one such warden and a diary extract from 26 September 1940 reveals: "At 4.10am we were awakened by a violent explosion. I sleep in my uniform so it only needed my top coat on to make me ready for investigation."

The exhibition also celebrates the fun side of fashion. A 'flapper' dress from the 1920s Jazz Age and Mod suits from the 1960s show how local people dressed to impress. The exhibition ends with a look at local clothes shops and although Wanstead and Woodford historically had few large fashion chain stores, they do retain a handful of boutiques catering for locals.

What Redbridge Wore is on show at Redbridge Museum in Ilford until 10 June. For more information, call 020 8708 2317

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