Dressing Up, Dressing Down

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dress photo 1956.431
far left dress 1959.105
dress 1956.431
dress photo 1959.97/2

During the 1950s, a Manchester-based pressure group known as "The Cotton Board" with its associated organisation called the "Colour, Style and Design Centre" were influential in promoting the use of cotton in fashion. Inaugurated to assist cotton manufacturers to utilise the fashion industry, the Board sought to encourage designers and retail outlets to use and stock cotton textiles, particularly for glamorous evening and cocktail wear, an area where silk and rayon had hitherto dominated. Fashion parades were organised, as in the main photograph, where commissioned outfits were shown, designed by a range of well known English and French couturiers. Many of these catwalk outfits were subsequently presented to the Gallery of Costume, together with their press descriptions and publicity photographs showing the original models.

It is rather difficult to assess the effectiveness of the Cotton Board's campaigns, which lasted until the early 1960s. Cotton is a versatile fibre, but some of the dresses in the collection are rather bizarre, and clearly impractical - a ballgown in black jumbo corduroy for instance, so heavy that the wearer could hardly stand, let alone dance! Cotton also had to compete with nylon, which was also promoted as a glamorous fabric in the 1950s, although here too, success was limited. The final image below shows a shot of an exhibition of some of the outfits held at the Gallery in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Full item descriptions:

"dress" [1957.486], Hartnell, Sir Norman, Whitworth & Mitchell Ltd.
"dress & jacket" [1956.431], Jean Patou, Paris, Ascher, Zita
"dress & jacket" [1956.15], Donnellan, Michael, Ferguson Bros Ltd
"evening dress" [1956.20], Roecliff and Chapman, Roosen Silks Ltd
"evening dress" [1959.103], Desses, Jean, Tootal Broadhurst Lee Ltd.
"dress & coat" [1959.97/2], Cavanagh, John, Hall, John

Related Themes:

1950s Fashion