Fashion Focus

Dare I say it? The festive word that people scold you for saying too early in the year.

Well for me Christmas, yes I said it, started especially early this year with planning beginning in August. One part of Christmas that is always popular with our visitors and our volunteers is costumes and through this blog post I aim to give you an insight into the planning, research and time it takes for a Polesden Lacey party to come to life through costume.

Christmas is a time of year to have fun and enjoy the company of your friends and family. This is the same now as it was for Mrs Greville in the first half of the 20th century with Polesden Lacey the scene for many a good knees-up. This Christmas the property is moving back to the 1930’s to emulate the feel and style of one of Maggie’s infamous soirées and what better way to add to the atmosphere then through fashion.

Here at Polesden Lacey we have a hugely talented team of volunteer seamstresses from NADFAS who have made over 60 Edwardian style costumes during their time with us. However, Edwardian and 1930’s dress is polls apart in the style stakes which meant starting from scratch, hence the August start. The new areas of the house being opened to the public are some of the behind the scenes servant areas that the guests of the house would never have stepped into. This opened up a new opportunity of having volunteers stationed in servants quarters, therefore leading to the decision to have 1930’s maids uniforms created.

Polesden Lacey's servants in the 1920's shows the variety of uniforms worn by the staff

Polesden Lacey’s servants in the 1920’s shows the variety of uniforms worn by the staff

Unfortunately we have very little information or photographs about the servants here in the 1930’s to base the designs of the maids dresses and aprons on. We know that if the maids were serving guests in the afternoon they would have worn black and white but each house and employer seemed to have their own colour associated with below-stairs staff also differing for different times of the day. The few photographs we have from around the 1930’s seem to show maids wearing different uniforms to each other, also suggesting that different ranks had differing uniforms. As you can imagine this proved a huge challenge to accurately depict the servants that were here but also to make the costumes adaptable for different events.

We were eventually helped on our way by a reminiscence from somebody remembering their mother wearing blue during the 30’s so we grasped this as our starting point and then pieced together a look from the bits of information we had managed to glean from the limited resources. After much discussion we decided on the dress shape from looking at the photographic evidence and decided to make a ‘general’ maids outfit rather than style it to a particular role. This would mean the costumes could be worn more frequently by the room guides.

the variety of blue fabric swatches collected

The variety of blue fabric swatches collected

The next step was to order in samples of fabrics for the dresses and aprons to get the right shades and fabric quality and also to see how they would work together. This in itself took about a month before I ordered the fabric as I discussed each swatch with the NADFAS groups and they needed to work out the quantities needed of 6 costumes being made.

Servants aside the 1930’s house parties of Polesden Lacey would have been nothing without the glamorous guests with their sweeping gowns and sharp suits. Evening dresses in the 30’s were sleek-looking often made of fabrics such as silk and satin with long hemlines, often having low-cut necklines in both the front and back.

When preparing for the winter parties the fires would have been stoked and the luxurious central heating would have been on so the women in their slinky dresses wouldn’t have needed to worry about the cold! Unfortunately the room guides are not so lucky as fires are a no go and the heating now only comes on to meeting conservation needs. Whereas furs would have been removed at the door to allow the guests to show off the latest fashions, we will be offering them to our room guides to enable them to keep the chill at bay.

A jazzy looking fur trimmed coat

A jazzy looking fur trimmed coat

Our NAFAS volunteers have again worked wonders, adapting costumes we already had that are 30’s style and making 2 new costumes. One of the new dresses was made using an original paper pattern while the other was made using a handmade pattern after looking at photographs of 1930’s evening dresses. These will be worn by both staff and room guides throughout December to add to the party atmosphere. Accessories are also important to make a costume look complete, for ladies jewellery and gloves are key as well as the right make-up and suitably waved hair. For gentlemen a bow tie and slicked back hair really finishes off the suited and booted look.

You can find out more information about the festive opening by clicking here

The house is open 4th – 23rd December 11 – 4pm everyday so why don’t you come and join the party!


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