Costume Archive Garment in focus: Blanes of London 1950s party dress


One of the best things about volunteering at the Beecroft is I get to work closely with the fantastic costume archive. This could mean researching for treasures to post on this blog, accessioning items into the collection, or sourcing material for researchers. I came across this week’s garment in focus whilst preparing items for a visiting researcher and I could  couldn’t resist its glittering fabric!

Ready-to-wear fashion

IMG_20170505_145337 The garment was made by Blanes of London, a British ready to wear firm founded in the 1950s. We have a great collection of similar 20th century British ready to wear pieces from firms such as Fredrica and St. Michael (Marks & Spencer) which are excellent resources to see examples of everyday dress.

This particular dress dates from the 1950s but was probably manufactured later in the decade. Whilst it still shows the distinctive 1950s shaping of bodice and waist, the unstructured lining and shift silhouette anticipates the transition to looser 1960s styles.

The 1950s textile revolution

IMG_20170505_144942When handling the dress I was struck by its sparkling, iridescent fabric, created by the interwoven metallic weft.  Although rough to the touch, you can see in the image above the reverse of the fabric is smoother and would not have irritated the skin of the wearer.

The textile is evidently a synthetic fibre and this is not unusual in 1950s dresses. In the post-war period man-made fibres were increasingly used in garments, following technological advances in creating fabrics using coil and oil bases. These were revolutionary fibres, which were easy to wash, non-creasing and had exciting names such as ‘Crimplene’ or ‘Dacron’. Earlier synthetics had existed, such as nylon, whose inherent stretch was ideal for foundation garments, such as girdles and corsellettes and the stiff petticoats necessary for supporting fifties full-skirts.

This dress can excitingly be positioned as part of this synthetic revolution, which was to continue into the 1960s, when even high-end designers such as Pierre Cardin and André Courrèges would boldly experiment with new plastics.

Easy-to-care for and easy-to-wear


Although not as radical as the 1960s synthetics would be, this simple garment’s fabric would have been revolutionary in its labour-saving properties. You can clearly see the dress has perfectly uniform pleats, miraculous considering it was made over sixty years ago. This retention of shape, would not have been possible in natural silk or wool fibres, which would have creased and required careful storage and pressing.  Despite this, this dress would not have been as easy-to wash as other synthetics. It is likely that the interwoven metallic threads, would have become damaged in a washing machine, and an internal label advises it to be dry cleaned only.  Although, as a cocktail dress it would not have been worn as frequently, nor needed to have been washed as regularly as everyday wear.

Fashion repeats itself

Prada 2017 RTW

Prada Spring/Summer Ready to Wear 2017. Image copyright Monica Feudi /

The pastel pink colour and sparkled texture,  would have made it the ideal party-dress, that would not be out of place in a modern setting. Indeed, current designer collections have featured a similar ‘uncomplicated’ prettiness in their designs, which is a distinct departure from the androgyny of recent years.

Prada’s Spring/Summer 2017 collection saw a return to elegance and femininity with flattering fifties and sixties silhouettes, that were telling of fashion’s endless recycling of the past. Formal dresses, coats and suits were created in pastel shades that sparkled with touches of embellishment and feather edging.

The fashion ‘glitterati’ have also taken up the trend with vigour. Model and socialite Suki Waterhouse was photographed at a recent fashion launch in a similarly girlish garment in saccharine shades of blue and pink. She donned a glittering beaded and sequined dress, accessorised with tottering heels and a fur stole.

It seems that the desire for a bit of sparkle will never go out of fashion…

Suki Waterhouse and Poppy Jamie

Poppy Jamie and Suki Waterhouse  at the LA Launch of their accessories line. Image copyright of Sam Deitch/

For more stories from the archive, check out our other blog posts and follow us on instagram 


Iona Farrell 

Costume and archive volunteer




Garment in Focus: Keddies 1980s swing coat


This week’s garment in focus is a beautifully tailored 1980s wool swing coat, that was purchased from Keddies Department Store in Southend.


Keddies Department Store with its column façade c.1950s

Keddies was a family run department store, that existed from 1892 to 1996. The building still stands today, at the top end of the high-street, and is recognisable by its Palladian columns. In 1934 these were the exciting new additions to the shop front and are thought to have been inspired by Selfridges own pillared façade.

Manufacture and Design

20170518_160031 - CopyThe coat was purchased in Keddies, but it was not a locally made garment. When researching any garment, labels can often provide useful clues to the manufacture. In this case the label shows it was manufactured by Mansfield Originals Ltd. before being marketed at Keddies.

Mansfield Originals branded this coat under the line ‘Cache D’Or’ lending a prestigious continental flair to the garment. This brand does not exist today but as Mansfield is a Nottinghamshire town, it is probable it was manufactured or designed in the North.

Another inserted label includes the Woolmark, this prestigious logo certifies the garments pure wool content, highlighting a high-quality garment. (The donator of the garment herself stated the coat was not worn much due to its value, but was carefully stored in the wardrobe) Interestingly the Woolmark campaign was launched in 1964, in retaliation to the explosion of synthetic fashion fibres- if you are interested in discovering more about synthetics you can read more in a previous post

The 18th century in the 20th century


Box Pleat at back of coat

Looking at the back of the garment we can see it has a loose box pleat, that would give a fluidity and ‘swing’ to the coat as the wearer moves. This form of pleating  is reminiscent of early 18th century sack-back gowns, which had flowing pleats from the shoulder seam to the hem. This pleating is sometimes known as ‘Watteau’ pleats after these sumptuous gowns depicted by the French Rococo painter Antoine Watteau.

A sack back gown, in Declaration of Love, by Jean Francois De Troy 1713

The new silhouette?


We can see the coat is tailored to flow outwards from the shoulders, whilst the main form of the coat is unstructured. This exaggeration of the shoulders seems synonymous now with 80’s fashion, but this form was nothing new. In his first collection for the famous fashion house of Dior, Yves Saint Laurent created the ‘Trapeze’ Line for Spring/Summer 1958. Where once underpinnings brought structure to garments, now the supportive framework of the dress was dictated from the shoulders, with fabric flowing outwards to create a triangular silhouette. Shown above is one such wool dress created in the ‘Trapeze’ line. This borrowing of styles from different eras is distinctive of 1980s fashion, which was an era of nostalgia, and revivals.


1986 Fashions from Next and Dorothy Perkins, sold in their Southend high street outlets. Southend Evening Echo.

1980s fashion features in Southend’s  Evening Echo promoted similar ‘triangular’ styles. The advertisement above from October 1986, shows a styling of layered jackets and jumpers to create ‘top-heavy’ trapeze like shapes.  These woollen skirts and jumpers were available in Dorothy Perkins and ‘Next Too’ the womenswear section of Next, as it was once known. Both stores of course still continue on the high street today.

The changing High Street

Whilst Next and Dorothy Perkins have continued to thrive in Southend, Keddies unfortunately closed in 1996. Other notable family firms that have since disappeared from the high street, include R. A. Jones, the jewellers (whose famous clock is currently being conserved) and Dixons, the department store.

Before it closed Keddies had undergone many transformations from its 1930s ‘Palladian’ remodelling but also a major expansion in the 1980s, around the time this coat was purchased. 1986 advertisements in the Echo promote Keddies’ extensive renovation, with an increase in floor space, modern lighting and new specialist departments. This was following increasing competition from other shops including the newly built Royals Shopping Centre.

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From the 1960s the high street and the area around Southend Victoria underwent a process of modernisation. 1960s Brutalist architecture emerged with the new Civic Centre and the high street was pedestrianized.  Whilst this change was part of a process to transform Southend into a thriving Business and commercial hub, it meant that many Edwardian buildings were lost. Although Keddies remained standing, Dixons department store, was eventually demolished.

Dixons Department Store

Whilst the Keddies building is still standing today, the company has since disappeared from the high street, along with many others. It is therefore reassuring to know that the Beecroft is able to preserve items that link back and re-invoke memories of the town’s past.

If you have any memories of the High Street and Keddies, make sure to add your comments to this blog piece.

By Iona Farrell

Exhibitions and Costume Volunteer

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