The costume collection contains approximately 2500 items of which 2,119 are photographed and catalogued. A small proportion of the costume collection is displayed at anyone time. This is done on a rotational basis with one main themed exhibition being displayed each year through the Easter to Autumn seasons, while smaller more temporary exhibitions may be also be added.
Please check our Exhibitions page!
The collection contains over 2500 items and accessories dating from the 1770s. They represent all strata of society, from poor working class, through the prosperous middle class, right up to outfits worn by the Blair’s of Blair. Most have been collected from the local area and there is detailed provenance available for much of the collection. This includes details about the wearer, the maker, the cost and the occasion for which it was made. Additional contextual information is available for many items such as photographs and even tailor’s paper patterns. Indeed an expert appraiser has stated that: “It is the number and extent of the provenances that add historical value and significance to the costume collection”.
The oldest items are a light blue silk caraco (or jacket) circa 1770-85 noted to be “of high significance”, and an 18th century blue woollen bonnet designated as “incredibly rare”.
There is an Ayrshire embroidered white lawn dress dating from 1820 and a floral cotton dress dating from 1835. The entire Victorian period is well represented. Not only are there outfits that would have been created locally, but there are many that came from India. These were donated by 3 prominent local families who lived there for a time. One set of costumes is enhanced by a detailed contemporary diary in which the wearer, Lucy Holmes, records what she wore to all the social functions she attended over a two year period.
Also dating from the eighteenth century, but not of local origin, is an exquisite collection of Chinese imperial silk embroidered robes. These were donated by a descendent of missionaries who were in China at the time of the Boxer Rebellion and who rescued the costumes from certain destruction.
There is a large collection of crinoline dresses, in many colours of silk, satin and brocade, muslin and madras cotton. There are also pinafore and bustle dresses from later periods. The collection also features Dolmans, capes, coats, shawls, boots, bonnets and parasols of the Victorian period.
The Edwardian period is well represented with both day and evening wear and includes a superb long-stranded ermine cape, and a white tennis dress with “leg of mutton” sleeves. There is also an unusual collection of women’s outfits consisting of interchangeable skirts and bodices, which were made by William Lauchlan, a Mauchline tailor, for his wife, daughter and sister. These are accompanied by a rare set of hand drawn patterns. Of particular quality and interest is the collection of dresses, furs, mantles and accessories belonging to the Misses Glen-Coats of the wealthy Paisley thread making company. These had been in the costume store of their old school since their donation in 1952. They were rescued from destruction by a retired staff member who was an ardent supporter of the Museum.
There is a particularly rare set of high quality fancy dress costumes, manufactured by a London costumier and dating from 1905. Costumes include a ‘Madame Pompadour’ outfit created for Lady Stirling for a ball in Simla. This includes a reproduction pair of tapestry court shoes with diamond buckles made by a London shoemaker, holding a Royal Warrant.
The First World War is represented with uniforms and other items including, field stretchers, medical kits, weapons and letters from the front.
The 1920s is perhaps the strongest period featured in the collection. There is an extensive collection of clothing donated by the Ferguson family of Largs, including lots of silk and lace underwear made in India by Anglo-Indian orphans. There is an outstanding collection of handmade shoes that were originally made in New York then handed on by the owners to their maid, a local woman. Sporting clothes of the time, and also from later periods, are well represented with items including tennis dresses, golfing suits and swimwear. The “Thirties”, “Forties” and “Fifties” are all well represented. Of particular note are garments made for the Currie family. This was a prominent family in contemporary high society which was associated the Blue Funnel shipping line, and which maintained its own live-in dressmaker. Other notable items are a Christian Dior going-away outfit from 1946, complete with hat, shoes and bag.
From the “Sixties” there are examples from Biba and Carnaby Street and a large collection of items donated by Michael Hitchon. There is also a collection of “Cruise” clothing of the period. The “Seventies” is illustrated with a large collection of special occasion garments including bridesmaids’ dresses and going away outfits.
In order to enhance access to the costume collection the museum displays two themed exhibitions per year. Examples of these have included The Roaring Twenties, The Victorians, A Century of Brides, The Edwardians, Icons of Fashion, Ayrshire Embroidery and Whitework, and Male Attire 1850-1975. All the exhibitions have been enhanced by a wide selection of contemporary accessories that are also held by the museum. These can range from furnishings and advertising signs to jewellery and household items.