Riviera Style: Resort and Swimwear Since 1900
22 May – 13 September 2015
Exploring over 100 years of clothing worn in and by the sea, from the English coast to the Côte d'Azur and California.
The first swimsuits were entirely functional, produced for restorative day trips to the beach as doctors began prescribing 'sea air' for all manner of health problems in the 19th century. It wasn't until the 1920s, when sunbathing emerged as a trend, that there was a radical change in the design of beach attire; corsetry, cut away sections and two-piece models followed.
This exhibition explores the transformation of seaside fashion from the Victorian era to the present day through a series of swimsuits and sarongs, boat neck Bretons and beach pyjamas, playsuits, bikinis and burkinis. It not only charts developments in design and fabric, but also how attitudes to modesty and body image have changed over the last century.
Guest curator is design historian Dr Christine Boydell, whose scholarly research on Horrockses Fashions led to a national resurgence of interest in the brand. Examples are drawn from extensive archives at Leicestershire County Council and private collections, while fashion magazines and trade journals provide original source material.
Among the display of glamorous swimming costumes worn by beauty queens at British seaside resorts, is the off-the-peg Symington’s design belonging to the winner of Miss Great Britain in 1965.
Also included is the headline-grabbing burkini which Nigella Lawson wore on holiday in Australia in 2011 – the piece provoked a national debate about women's beach attire.