This exhibition looks at the styles of clothing worn in Ireland from the mid 18th Century and shows that although many Irish men and women undoubtedly dressed in a traditional manner, the majority of the population wore clothing which reflected changing fashions and was influenced by fashionable dress in other parts of Europe. The display is based mainly on the clothing and costume accessories worn by people who lived in comfortable circumstances. Examples include the embroidered pink velvet coat and silk breeches worn during the 1770s by a member of the Worth Newenham family in Carrigaline, Co. Cork, and the ivory silk wedding dress worn by Hannah Woodcock Perry when she married Marcus Goodbody in the Friends’ Meeting House in Monkstown, Co. Dublin, in 1848. The aspirations of Ireland’s growing middle classes during the last two centuries were often reflected in choices of clothing, as were notions of respectability and conformity. Other themes, such as dressing for comfort and practicality, patronising local or national manufacture, and the display of wealth through clothing, are also explored.
The garments on display illustrate how stylish dressing became accessible to the population as a whole with the increasing availability of affordable fashionable fabrics and the dissemination of the most up to date styles through illustrations in magazines and papers. Technological advances, such as the invention of the sewing machine in the mid 19th Century, also helped to democratise fashion, enabling both professional and home dressmakers to adapt and copy the latest fashions more easily. The exhibition also examines the important economic role of the textile and clothing industries, and how goods produced in Ireland competed on the world market. The town of Balbriggan in north county Dublin, for instance, became synonymous with quality hosiery, while Irish lace and crochet were internationally renowned in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.
The jewellery gallery displays pieces dating from the 17th to the 20th Centuries and explores a number of themes relating to this form of personal adornment, from the diverse reasons for wearing jewellery to the range of materials used to create it. Popular trends in jewellery are represented, such as the 18th-Century fashion for jewellery set with paste stones; finely carved cameos and corals from Italy; and the early 19th-Century vogue for semi-precious stones like amethyst, agates and turquoise. The taste for historical revivalism can be seen in the gothic style of Berlin iron work jewellery and in the collection of archaeologically inspired pieces by Fortunato Castellani and Carlo Giuliano. This 19th-Century fashion for revivalism took a particularly Celtic form in Ireland, when firms such as James West & Son, Waterhouse & Co., and silversmith Edmond Johnson, began to reproduce recently discovered archaeological finds like the eighth-Century “Tara” brooch found in Bettystown, Co. Meath, in 1850.
The costume and jewellery displays are supported by contemporary illustrations, advertisements and archive photographs.