Report by Sandra Millsopp
Bangor Historical Society met on 12 March 2015 for a talk on the history of costume by Madeleine McAllister. She works at the Down County Museum and used paintings and photographs from its collections to illustrate her talk. The museum also has costumes in its collections, but she pointed out that many clothes do not survive, especially those worn by men. Women tend to keep things for best wear, especially wedding dresses.
The earliest painting showed Lady Betty Cromwell and her husband in the early eighteenth century. She was painted in undergarments to give the impression of relaxation and wealth. A day dress would have been more constricting. A nineteenth painting showed John Waring Maxwell of Finnebrogue, a local landlord.
There were several family groups, both relaxed and formal. Women and children wore formal dress, even in a rural setting. Ladies might wear fur to show how wealthy the family was. By Edwardian times men might wear a lounge suit, while women wore a long skirt with a blouse. Underneath they might wear a liberty bodice, so-called because it was made by the Liberty Company.
Children also appeared in the photographs. Below the age of four boys and girls might be dressed in a similar way. A pink band round the waist indicated a boy as it was seen as a version of the red of military dress. By the 1930s pink was established as a colour for girls. Older boys might wear an a Norfolk jacket and an Eton collar.
As the twentieth century progressed there were more photographs of workmen. One of c1910 showed the men who worked at the railway station in Downpatrick with the station master and his children. Clothes might indicate occupation as for example leather aprons worn by a coalman.
There was a picture of children from the Southwell School in Downpatrick. They were usually orphans or those who had lost one parent. Both boys and girls wore outfits of blue, the latter also wearing white collars, caps and aprons.
Wartime also affected clothes. There was a picture of nurses from the First World War. During the Second World War practical outfits like dungarees were worn by women. Clothes were often made at home and were sturdy enough to be sold at second hand markets such as those at Downpatrick. Ladies’ dress began to adapt to new developments such as bicycles and also for sport.
The final photographs showed wedding dresses from different times, including one worn by Princess Margaret whose style influenced more ordinary brides.
Daphne Hamill proposed the vote of thanks for a very interesting talk.
The manager of the North Down Museum then told us about new and future exhibitions. The current exhibition celebrates the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the railway in Bangor. Future plans include a display of early monastic bells, objects from the dig at Bangor Abbey and, in July, wedding dresses.