'Costume Drama: Fashion from 1790 to 1850.' Sudley House, Liverpool, 07/08/11.

Costume Drama: prints of ladies in costume

Sudley House once belonged to the proud owner of a Mr George Holt, a Liverpool based shipping merchant. He believed it was his families responsibility to 'use their wealth for the good of the community.' Three centuries later and his wish has been granted, Sudley House is now owned by Liverpool City Council and is currently home to the exhibition,'Costume Drama: Fashion from 1790 to 1850.'

Sudley House is lavish in style but reserved in structure and ambiance, set in twenty nine acres of grounds the gardens compliment the extrovert inner details of the house. As you enter through the grand double doored, high arched entrance you are instructed to follow a devised route, starting with the library, then drawing room, dining room and on to the morning room. Each room has a video audio accompaniment to give visitors a detailed look at the life of the Holt's in 1884. The rooms are heavily adorned with original features of an early Victorian cabinet of curiosities style of different sized paintings hung all around the room at various heights, resulting in the rooms being a source of entertainment in themselves by their desired grandeur and the feelings they evoke onto the visitor.

The grandeur continues as you go up the red carpeted spiraling staircase, passing ascending portraits of the Holt family, to three separate rooms displaying the contents of the exhibition.

As you enter the first room there is a large panelled information board on the wall with a gold print border, which gives information about the era and how they dressed as to display their wealth. The board is so concise in its evaluative meaning and what it aims to display, that it only displays one message of extreme wealth and is not a true representative of the Victorian era in which it aims to display.

Opposite and behind a red cord, that I assume was chosen to evoke glamour, pristeness and the specialness of the garments are eleven headless mannequins alligned next to each other. they are not arranged in chronological order and with only one dress given its original owners of being from a farming family at Church Lane, Netherton but no further explanation. The labels in front of the dresses are in similar fashion as the main information board of being concise in style and by not giving the original owners names, occupation and so on, it is up to the visitors to further elaborate on the dresses original aim, usage and what type of family it belonged to.

The room is dark as roller blinds are used over the two large windows, as to make it seem intimate which is also conveyed by the recording of a piano playing over speakers. The room looks staged and not in fitting with the rest of the house, it is as the dresses have just been placed together without the relation between each dress and the distance between them being examined in their layout and position to the rest of the house.

The second room of the exhibition display is the largest with your attention immediately drawn to the four headless mannequins on a raised platform in the centre of the room. The mannequins are mostly wearing high waisted, full bottom dresses, with their arms poised in a elegant fashion by their sides, which represents the Victorian ladies demeanour at the time.

The same style information panel boards are around the exterior of the wall, with the same golder border again informing the visitor with concise facts about the clothing and Victorian sentiments at the time. The information boards do not evoke reflective consideration by the visitor, they just give facts in a stale way as to inform but not to entertain.

The third room is adjoining and seems as an after thought to the exhibition, there are two chairs and a coffee table with Jane Austen novels on, again this seems predictable and distracts from the exhibition dresses and their original use of being one to evoke glamour, envy and show wealth instead they are displayed in too much of a matter of fact way and do not reflect the joy the wearer once had out of the garments.

The exhibition although contains beautiful dresses the way they are arranged reflect Victorian society as strict and educating instead of the original aim of the dress being extravagant to display wealth. The display looks staged through out and is in stark contrast to the rest of the house as it looks natural and in keeping the Victorian era. By the labelling being too large it distracts the visitor from experiencing the beauty and design of the dress and allowing the dresses to speak for themselves.

Male fashion has been disregarded in the exhibition with only two male mannequins in the exhibition showing formal early eighteenth century dress. Make dandy's could have been explored and could have been an entertaining display of how men use to dress to show off and in their pursuit for decadence.

As the exhibition was ran by Liverpool City Council and was free admission, maybe it had to be tailored more to an informative, disciplined display. Instead if the dresses were allowed to be displayed in a more natural habitat such as a ladies boudoir it could have given life to the clothes and let them express the joy and decadence of the clothing. Also if audio visual displays were used of re-enactments of the original owners of the clothing, so the visitor could imagine the type of people who wore the dresses and the significance to them of their clothing, this would have made for an more entertaining visual display intended to discuss rather than inform the visitor of Victorian dress.