Earlier this week, we visited the Fashion & Gardens exhibition at the Garden Museum in Lambeth, London. Curated by Nicola Shulman, a well-known author and journalist, who is also a Trustee of the Museum, the exhibition explores the influence of gardens and horticulture on fashion from the early 16th century until the modern day.
Gardens shape fashion trends
Embroidered gloves, a robe resembling a wrought iron gate, dresses decorated with all manner of flowers, a hat in the shape of an orchid, the garden shapes fashion trends.
The exhibition demonstrates how, in the seventeenth century, the British passion for gardens and outdoor pursuits propelled a shift from the French-influenced clothes made of silk to more practical clothes made from broadcloth – heavy-duty garments suitable for aristocratic landowners to ride and walk through their extensive parklands.
The clothes gardeners wear
The exhibition emphasizes the influence of gardens on fashion, but only gives a cursory nod to the clothes gardeners themselves wear. There is the predictable reference to the idiosyncratically-clad Vita Sackville-West and to the strawhatted Nancy Lancaster, memorably photographed by Valerie Finnis. The star exhibit, on show in April, will be Prince Charles’ old gardening coat. All of these examples serve to perpetuate the idea that gardening is the preserve of the landed gentry, the preferred pastime of the eccentric English.
Yet from Victorian times onwards, gardening has become more democratized, and especially after the First World War when so many estate gardeners perished, ordinary people have been creating and maintaining gardens, growing flowers and vegetables, and tending allotments. We would have liked to discover what clothes gardeners themselves are wearing. But maybe that should be the subject for another occasion.
Fashion & Gardens is a beautiful, elegant and thoughtful exhibition, well worth a visit.
Fashion & Gardens runs until 27 April at the Garden Museum, Lambeth Palace Road, London SE1 7LB (gardenmuseum.org.uk)