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Exciting new exhibition explores 400 years of fashion in Redbridge

PUBLISHED: 13:05 23 January 2017 | UPDATED: 13:23 23 January 2017

C & A sale window, March 1960, this is now the site of Wilko on Cranbrook Road, Ilford. Picture: Redbridge Museum and Heritage Service

C & A sale window, March 1960, this is now the site of Wilko on Cranbrook Road, Ilford. Picture: Redbridge Museum and Heritage Service

Redbridge Museum and Heritage Service

Suits with ties, shimmering saris, and a sneaky pair of boxers peeking out of low slung jeans are just a few of the garments on display when you walk down Ilford High Road.

Peach coloured taffeta evening dress.1950s. Picture: Redbridge Museum and Heritage ServicePeach coloured taffeta evening dress.1950s. Picture: Redbridge Museum and Heritage Service

Clothing can make not just an immediate impression, but give clues about background, character and even indicators about the wider politics of the world.

An exciting new exhibition at Redbridge Museum, Clements Road, Ilford, will delve into this topic on a deeper level and explore 400 years of what people wore in Redbridge.

From the straight lines of the ’20s flapper to the curves of the ’50s silhouettes, the display will feature a range of outfits, accessories, photographs, and film bringing to life the fashion of the time and stories of the people who wore them.

Alexandra Lyons, of Redbridge Museum, told the Recorder she is looking forward to the exhibition for the chance to show some of the more “unique” and interesting costumes.

Mods at the Ilford Palais, Ilford High Road, 1980s. Curtesy of Bob Morris. Picture: Redbridge Museum and Heritage ServiceMods at the Ilford Palais, Ilford High Road, 1980s. Curtesy of Bob Morris. Picture: Redbridge Museum and Heritage Service

“Whether you are interested in the aesthetics of the collection or want to understand more about the people who lived in Redbridge, What Redbridge Wore is an exhibition for you,” she said.

One part of the show explores the fashion and lives of local teenagers and the impact on the borough.

Pre-1950s teens were seen as young adults and they dressed similarly to their parents.

With the post-war consumer boom, the youngsters of the 1950s and 1960s had considerable disposable incomes.

1920s Flapper Dress. Picture: Redbridge Museum and Heritage Service1920s Flapper Dress. Picture: Redbridge Museum and Heritage Service

Armed with their new found wealth they began to shape their own identity, which was expressed through clothes and music.

“Teenage trends quickly became teenage tribes with distinctive clothing worn to symbolise an allegiance to a group,” added Alexandra.

“One such was the Mod revival between 1979 and ’81, which was particularly popular in Ilford.

“Male Mods adopted a smooth, sophisticated look that included tailor-made suits with narrow lapels, thin ties, and button-down collar shirts. Female Mods dressed androgynously, with short haircuts, men’s trousers or shirts, flat shoes, and little make-up. Military parka jackets were worn by both in order to keep their clothes clean as they rode their scooters.

1950s gentleman’s suit. Picture: Redbridge Museum and Heritage Service1950s gentleman’s suit. Picture: Redbridge Museum and Heritage Service

“Today’s society values youth and our fashion choices reflect this – teenagers no longer emulate their parents but instead look to celebrities or friends for inspiration. In turn, parents of teenagers today dress more youthfully than their 1960s counterparts.”

At whichever decade you have lived in the borough, one thing is assured, Redbridge clothing trends take influence from the rich and famous.

Whereas today residents may be guided more by celebrities and film stars, in previous decades the public would have looked to royalty for ideas.

“Children’s sailor suits had first been made fashionable by Queen Victoria who had one made for her son in 1846,” explained Alexandra.

These two fashionable women are passing the premises of nurseryman, Russel Davies, at Nos 52-58. The shop was designed as a single story-green house known as the Cranbrook Nursery. Picture: Redbridge Museum and Heritage ServiceThese two fashionable women are passing the premises of nurseryman, Russel Davies, at Nos 52-58. The shop was designed as a single story-green house known as the Cranbrook Nursery. Picture: Redbridge Museum and Heritage Service

“They continued to be popular for many years and reflected Britain’s continued pride in the Royal Navy. The clothes worn by Princess Diana in the 1980s or today by Prince George and Princess Charlotte have all reportedly started trends.

“We have a picture showing Gladys Harrison (with her mother Lily) in 1918, aged six wearing a sailor suit. Before she got married, Lily was a servant at 12 Seymour Gardens, Ilford and her husband worked at Sainsbury’s, then in Cranbrook Road, Ilford. The photograph shows how people from ordinary backgrounds, like the Harrison family, kept up with fashions of the time.”

Since the early 1900s Ilford has been a place for shopping and people would travel in from the surrounding areas to buy outfits.

Whereas the High Road had chain stores such as Marks & Spencer BHS, C&A and even a large Selfridges, Cranbrook Road had more bespoke shops such as Fairheads, Bodgers, Wests, as well as Maison Riche, a very upmarket women’s clothes store.

Sailor suit belonging to Gladys Harrison, 1918. Picture: Redbridge Museum and Heritage ServiceSailor suit belonging to Gladys Harrison, 1918. Picture: Redbridge Museum and Heritage Service

“During the 1960s, these large department stores had clientele which included the wives of many West Ham football players who lived in the area,” added Alex

“Today the Exchange Shopping Mall, which opened in 1991, has the main concentration of Ilford’s clothing stores.

“This has been joined in recent years by a large Primark store in the High Road, which sells cheap and fast-changing fashion.”

During the Second World War, however, material was rationed so many women would “make do and mend” by re-designing old clothing or dyeing garments.

Victorian purple silk dress, 1850s-1895. Picture: Redbridge Museum and Heritage ServiceVictorian purple silk dress, 1850s-1895. Picture: Redbridge Museum and Heritage Service

Making your own clothes isn’t just a thing of the past and shops in the borough still sell fabric for residents to style.

The exhibition also explores how Asian textile shops in Ilford Lane traditionally sold material for customers to make their own outfits.

Window shop 400 years of fashion at Redbridge Museum from February 28 to June 3. Call 020 8708 2414 or visit redbridge.gov.uk/museum


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