Pearly Kings and Queens are an iconic image of London, easily recognised by their distinctive suits and accessories covered with patterns of mother-of-pearl buttons. They’ve inspired fashion designers, costume makers, and been featured in everything from films to the London Olympics opening ceremony. We’re showing off some beautiful Pearly clothes ourselves, in anew display at the museum. But do you know the meaning and surprising history behind the costume?
Who were the Kibbo Kift?
Were they the pacifist and feminist version of the Boy Scouts? Were they banker-bashing radicals or performance artists? Were they, as some accused, secretly fascists, communists, or connected to the Ku Klux Klan? Now, for the first time in decades, this extraordinary and visionary social movement of the 1920s and 30s is back in the London spotlight.
My ideal job would give me licence to stare at people all day. Maybe I should have become a photographer, but while I get the depth of field thing (I think), I never really felt totally at one with a camera. Instead I have become the next best thing for a people-starer: a dress historian. My profession (no sniggering at the back!) provides me with a legitimate reason – or so I am telling myself – for gazing at others and for dissecting their appearance. I’m not too bothered whether someone is fashionably dressed or looks – or pretends to look – as if they don’t particularly care about their clothes. And when I say dissect I don’t mean judge. Whether the clothes are beautiful, ugly, boring or unremarkable (in my eyes or by general consent) is neither here nor there. I want to know why that particular person chose to wear that particular thing in combination with the other things they’ve put on. (Naturally my curiosity extends to accessories, jewellery, hair and make-up as well.)
I have been putting off publishing this entry as it contains too many known unknowns for my liking. But I have already spent too many hours on Ancestry and I am hoping that you will be able to solve some of the mysteries surrounding the object below.
The bodice can currently be seen in Show Space a new (small) exhibition area we opened just before Easter. Show Space consists of three mannequin-height cases which can be (relatively) easily configured to hold different types and sizes of objects. We want to react more quickly to what’s happening in London, to bring out objects that have a good story but don’t fit into forthcoming exhibitions and generally to experiment a little. There is also a screen for film and other digital ‘stuff’ and a player for gems from our Oral History Collection (or sounds, or music). Read the full post
We’ve long been fascinated by menswear at the Museum of London – last year we showed you how the three piece suit has its origins in the capital, and just recently we demonstrated how the history of tweed is woven into the fabric of tailoring in London. Read the full post
As part of our Sherlock Holmes season at the Museum of London, we commissioned London-based photographer Kasia Wozniak to create a new fashion photography series inspired by the stories of Arthur Conan Doyle. We caught up with her at her studio in South London and asked her a few questions ahead of her exhibition opening… Read the full post
So this is how the story goes. In 1826 a London merchant decides to buy some cloth from a weaver in Hawick, a town in the Scottish borders famous for its cloth production. Very happy with his order, he decides to get some more but – crucially – misreads the weaver’s dashed handwriting. Instead of ‘twill’ this Londoner reads ‘tweed’, and assumes this new cloth must take after the River Tweed which runs fast and clear through the textile areas of lower Scotland. ‘Tweed’ and not ’twill’ has been the term used ever since. Read the full post
Sparked by my own reservations around an existing display of Muslim dress in the museum’s galleries, I was interested in exploring representations of Muslim Londoners through our fashion collections. Read the full post
In June the tours of the Archaeological Archive will be called: ‘What, this old thing?’ and will be investigating shoes and dress accessories through the ages. In this blog we’ll be looking in more detail at three of the wonderful objects that the Archaeological Archive’s volunteers will be showing in the tours. Read the full post