Anything Goes: 1920s fashion goes on display at Ulster Museum
A new exhibition, Anything Goes! Fashion in the 1920s, has opened at Ulster Museum. The carefully curated treasure trove of luxurious fabrics and elaborate garments, is a deep dive into one of the most influential eras of fashion to date and gives visitors an opportunity to experience how the period changed fashion forever.
Charlotte McReynolds, Curator of Art at National Museums NI, and curator of the exhibition explains:
“It’s said the 1920s were the first time women felt liberated in their fashion choices. In the years previous, women were encased in corsets and excessive layers but following the trauma of the First World War - where many lives were lost - there was an appetite amongst women for freedom and expression.
“Easy fit garments that revealed the arms, necks and legs became popular for the first time, and with this came a new generation of women who grew curious about modernity. Along with shorter hemlines, relaxed silhouettes and garments that highlighted the female form in new ways, women started to wear trousers for the first time while shunning the style ideals that had previously been expected of them.”
Rare pieces by early 20th-century Paris couturiers, including Edward Molyneux, Jean Patou, and Margaine-Lacroix are displayed, as well as a magnificent silver and gold embroidered coat purchased from the exclusive Paris boutique Myrbor in 1925.
The exhibition also serves as a visual reminder on how today’s designers continue to take inspiration from the era’s geometric patterns, strong colours, and creative freedoms. One such designer is Sara O’Neill, the founder of local fashion brand, Éadach, which is best known for its limited-edition silk kimonos and scarves featuring intricate hand-drawn designs. The ‘Dreamer’ kimono from her label is now part of Ulster Museum’s collection, and her work will be on display at the exhibition alongside US designer Phillip Lim and Colombian designer Johanna Ortiz.
Commenting on her involvement in the exhibition, Sara said:
“I’m honoured that Ulster Museum has chosen my Dreamer kimono to feature in this exciting exhibition. This particular piece is an ode to the skill and talent of the women who worked in Belfast’s linen mills many moons ago and the dreams they may have had and is inspired by the 1920s. A rich and luxurious colour palette brings to life a woman in flapper dress sat amid the sparkly stars of a busy art deco cityscape. It’s so important to keep celebrating the works of up-and-coming designers but also the inspirations and fashion pioneers that have gone before us.”
Charlotte prioritised the opportunity to engage with new and local talent whilst curating the exhibition. She continued:
“The clothing items we have selected such as Sara’s Dreamer kimono perfectly detail the parallels between the 1920s and 2020s, and we can see how influential the roaring twenties remain to the fashion world today. I’d encourage all fashion lovers and history enthusiasts to come along to the exhibition to fully appreciate the style and creativity of 100 years ago that continues to inspire us.”
The Anything Goes! Fashion in the 1920s exhibition is now open at Ulster Museum and is expected to run until spring 2024.