Published Monday, 01 July 2013
It's a chance to see how trends, patterns and fabrics have been repeated over hundreds of years, and even to catch some of the latest designer outfits.
Thanks to Baz Luhrmann, fashion experienced a Gatsby revival this season, with dropped waists making an appearance in many wardrobes. But the real thing is currently on display in Belfast, in its original, heavily beaded and sequined glory.
The exhibition has been curated by Elise Taylor, from National Museums Northern Ireland, and highlights similarities in the cut and design of fabrics spanning centuries.
Elise explained: "It's about how fashion repeats itself and revives itself into different elements and styles get reinvented, shapes are repeats and they echo the past shapes, as well as colours and maybe fabrics also.
"So even people like Vivienne Westwood look at 18th century costume in order to get inspired for contemporary designs."
Hemlines rise from the ground-sweeping 18th century pieces to the miniskirts of the 1960s, while silhouettes lose their bustle and transform into sleek pieces.
And technology also features in the collection, with advances in fabrics and the invention of zips and poppers.
"In the 18th century, people needed to have maids and servants to dress them, so complicated was the dress," said Elise.
"Nowadays we need to dress quickly, we work, women in the early 20th century realised that we couldn't get dressed with the difficulties they had with the gowns.
"They had to reinvent the suit, make dressing easier and we like to move around in our clothes now, we've got stretch in our fabrics, we don't have to wear corsets anymore."
Amid the bright colours and heavily patterned fabrics, feature black outfits from Thierry Mugler, Alexander McQueen and a shift dress from Victoria Beckham - the collection's latest acquisition.
Elise said she observes up and coming designers to see if they earn a place in the exhibition.
"I watched Victoria Beckham for a couple of years and didn't buy her because I didn't know if she had the staying power.
"I think the dress on show is a very nice little dress, it's very stylish. I don't know whether she can actually sow but she does have a style of her own," she added.
Picking from 3,000 pieces in the collection, Elise said there are a number of highlights.
"The Alexander McQueens are fantastic, Vivienne Westwood who's always used museum collections, and I think those are the star pieces.
"I love them all, some of them I love because their structure is so beautiful. There's a Charles James dress from the 1950s and it's just beautifully made.
"I think it makes you appreciate the skill of the designer and dressmakers and how beautiful costume can be," she added.
Reflections: Costume 1730 - 2013 runs until April 2014.
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