Fashion through the ages – and a touch of Laura Ashley

I feel very fortunate to live within easy travelling distance of Bath’s Fashion Museum. The costumes on display date from the 1700s to modern day (every year it awards a Dress of the Year). In many ways this is the ultimate museum for all of us who love second-hand clothes. While I doubt the items on display would ever be for sale in Oxfam they are a great way to see how fashion changes (or rather doesn’t).

Court dress, dating from the 1760s. Okay, so maybe fashion has changed for the better...

Court dress, dating from the 1760s.

1930s red velvet evening dress

1930s red velvet evening dress

1930s red velvet evening dress

1940s fashion

2012 Dress of the Year by Dior

2012 Dress of the Year by Dior

There are two aspects to the museum that I particularly like: the temporary exhibitions and the room devoted to the changing styles of dress of the 19th century.  The current exhibition is ‘Laura Ashley: The Romantic Heroine’ which marks the 60th anniversary of the fashion label.


The museum is displaying over 70 dresses that range from the early 1960s, through to the label’s heydey in the 1970s. Bath was home to one of the first Laura Ashley shops in 1971 (still present in the city on New Bond Street). I like the fact that many of the dresses that are on loan to the museum have been worn by ‘real’ people, with their own stories to tell. Quite a few of them were worn as wedding dresses in the late 1960s and early 1970s which I guess echoes the label’s reputation as a romantic one. While I have to say I have never been a big fan of the Laura Ashley style (being short I don’t think long dresses suit me), this retospective made me look at the fashion house in a new light. I like the way that Laura Ashley developed a new simple style that moved away from the short hemlines of the 60s and embraced a longer hemline and more natural fabrics and colours. While the dresses reminded me of The Good Life there was a distinctive element that went straight back to the style of the Victorian era.

I think there is a strong similarity between the 1970s styles above and those below, on display in the 19th century room, and dating from 150 years before Laura Ashley opened her shop in Bath.

Having been slightly inspired by the exhibition I decided to try on a classic Laura Ashley dress that I discovered afterwards in Oxfam. While it was fun to dress up this did confirm what I already knew: that the style is not for me, but rather one to be appreciated from a distance.


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