Dressing the Stars at Bath Fashion Museum

12 July 2011

We have a bit of a cinematic theme here at Madame Guillotine lately, don’t we? Today  Felix and I headed off on a train to Bath for the opening day of the new exhibition Dressing the Stars at the fabulous Bath Fashion Museum, which is housed in the former Assembly Rooms where Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, Jane Austen and a whole host of Georgette Heyer heroines flirted, dance and exchanged frosty bows with acquaintances.

Nowadays, the Assembly Rooms have been used as a location for several film and television productions, including Persuasion and The Duchess and so it makes an excellent setting for a magnificent exhibition of costumes from some of the finest films ever. I already knew to expect dresses from Young Victoria, The Duchess, Tess, Elizabeth and Sense and Sensibility but gave a definite gasp when I walked into the pale blue and white ball room and saw a splendid display arrayed before me.


I had a quick chat with the exhibition organiser, Yvonne Hellin-Hobbs, who has many years experience of working with costumed films and worked on Sense and Sensibility, which everyone who has read Emma Thompson’s memoir of the filming knows must have been a VERY fun film to work on! She told me that her favourite costume comes from the film Tess: a gorgeous and delicate looking wine coloured gown that looks like it might actually be a genuine piece from that era. All of the costumes on display looked amazing but when you get up close, the illusion that they create on screen is often dispelled and you realise that they aren’t actually a genuine period piece. Not so with the Tess gown.

Here’s a selection of some of the costumes that I saw:

A beautiful lilac dress worn by Bette Davis in Death on the Nile (1978).

An intricate doublet worn by Laurence Olivier in Hamlet (1948).

Roman armour from Ben Hur (1959).

Another Laurence Olivier costume, this time from Henry V (1944).

Captain Jack Sparrow!

Commodus’ white armour from Gladiator (2000).

Dress worn by Charlotte Rampling as Lady Spencer in The Duchess (2008).

Worn by Ralph Fiennes as the Duke of Devonshire in The Duchess.

Wedding dress worn by Keira Knightley as Georgiana in The Duchess.

Gown worn by Keira Knightley in The Duchess. I find this piece interesting as an unusual example of what maternity wear would have looked like in the 1780s.

Dress worn by Keira Knightley in The Duchess. This is the dress that Georgiana wears in the scene where she attends a ball in a rather squiffy state.

Wedding outfits worn by Alan Rickman and Kate Winslet as Colonel Brandon and Marianne Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility (1995).

Detail from a dress worn by Miranda Richardson as the Duchess of Kent in The Young Victoria (2009).

Uniform worn by Colin Firth as George VI in The King’s Speech (2010).

Dress worn by Helena Bonham-Carter as Queen Elizabeth in The King’s Speech.

Dress worn by Gwyneth Paltrow as Viola in Shakespeare in Love (1998).

Gown worn by Judi Dench as Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love.

Costumes worn by Cate Blanchett  as Elizabeth I (and lovely Clive Owen as Walter Rayleigh?) in Elizabeth: The Golden Age (2007).

Coronation ensemble worn by Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth I in Elizabeth (1998).

Fancy schmancy costume worn by Robert Downey Jnr as Robert Merivale in Restoration (1995).

Beautiful dress worn by Swoosie Kurtz as Madame de Volanges in Dangerous Liaisons (1988).

As well as beautiful dresses and dashing uniforms, there was also a dressing up rail in the corner with childrens’ costumes made especially for the exhibition, which I think will be very popular! Felix immediately made a beeline for it and was dressed up as one of his heroes – Captain Jack Sparrow! Arrr! There were also gorgeous dresses in a Georgian and Regency style for little girls to dress up in. There’s going to be some activities for children as well over the summer while the exhibition is on, including opportunities to design court dresses and other fun things.

This is an amazing exhibition – it’s really great to be able to view such gorgeous costumes up close and I’ll definitely be returning before it ends on the 29th August. I’m also hoping to get to one of the special events that they have planned, include special screenings of The Kings Speech (introduced by the costume designer, Jenny Beavan) and The Young Victoria (introduced by scriptwriter, Julian Fellowes).


If you live in the north of England and feel a bit left out, some of Dressing the Stars will be moving to the Rheged centre in Penrith later in the summer. In the meantime, it’s definitely worth a trip to Bath.

Here’s more information about the exhibition, including opening times.


Ps. We were filmed and interviewed by the crew of Points West while there this afternoon and apparently will be on this evening’s show! Eek. I’m not the greatest public speaker ever so am hoping I don’t appear but Felix was a DOLL and the politest little pirate there ever was so I hope they show him.


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