Words & Fixtures #5: Rags to Bitches

Gallery of Costume

November 23, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, MANCHESTER, Wondrous Cities

A couple of posts ago, I touched on Manchester’s current paper art, and as we head south out of town towards Fallowfield, let’s peek inside the gorgeous Whitworth Art Gallery, where there’s an outstanding archive of wallpaper. There is also a number of Wardle Pattern Books containing more than 1,700 pages of patterns for fabric by the designer associated with the Arts and Crafts Movement, William Morris and Liberty.

A little further along Europe’s busiest bus route is the vast Platt Fields Park, overlooked by the Modernist beauty that is the Toast Rack (complete with Fried Egg) and the 1930s Art Deco delight that is Appleby Lodge, designed by the same architect as the soon-to-be-defunct Cornerhouse and once home to Sir John Barbirolli, conductor of the Halle Orchestra (and honoured with a blue plaque – gosh, perhaps I am a plaque collector, after all!).

Platt Fields is also home to the Gallery of Costume, reopened in 2010 after a complete overhaul, and already mentioned on A Wondrous Place by Pete Collins. On top of a well-curated permanent collection of outfits and accessories through the eras, there is a button exhibition (no good for the koumpounophobists among you, I’m afraid), a timeline contextualising the Gallery by reminding us of Manchester’s importance in textile manufacture, and changing shows; right now, dresses made of paper.

“A good specimen is one which is not only in sound condition and of nice quality, but which embodies the features of its period in an entirely representative way” – fashion writer Doris Langley Moore on collecting.

There are get-ups that belonged to the likes of Jerry Hall and Audrey Hepburn – in the latter’s case, a 1967 fuchsia button-through belted frock designed for the film star and fashion icon by Givenchy.

Audrey Hepburn’s Dress from the Gallery of Costume















There are a few writer connections, too. There’s a trademark Roberto Cavalli leopard-print number worn by Julia Roitfeld, daughter of Carine, editor of Paris Vogue until last year. There’s a wool suit owned by art and fashion historian and writer – and Lord Byron scholar – Doris Langley Moore, who had so many clothes, she kept them in her large house while she herself had to move to a small flat. There’s an evening dress created in the mid-1930s by Edward Molyneux, who mingled in the same circles as Gertrude Lawrence and Noel Coward, no less. (By the way, the title of this post references a former vintage shop in the Northern Quarter; it’s not a reflection on the people mentioned!)

Mode Magazine – one of the Gallery of Costume’s extensive collection of fashion journals.


















The building, which itself is most pleasant – a Grade 2 listed Georgian manor – also houses a comprehensive fashion journal library containing glossy magazines and periodicals dating back more than 100 years. Some are displayed alongside the actual garments shown in the spreads, while the complete collection is available to view by appointment. As a former fashion magazine journo, I’m making that appointment. But for now, I’m not far from home, so I’m off to kick back and have a well-deserved pre-dinner sherry.


Thank you for reading! I hope this guide to Manchester’s literature and libraries has been as interesting for you to digest as it has been for me to put together, and I hope it might inspire you to pop a poetry night in your diary or pick up a book by a Manchester-based author. Obviously it’s not comprehensive, and there are plenty of people and places I’ve not had chance to mention (how about alternative depositories such as the virtual Rainy City Stories, for example, or the Salford Zine Library, where fellow contributor Natalie Bradbury’s The Shrieking Violet is one of the tomes?), but perhaps it can be a starting point. Thank you, too, to the people who have answered my questions and provided photographs (particularly Gareth Hacking for his original images of the Portico Library, more of which can be seen on Creative Tourist). Finally, a big thank you to Chris Meads for giving me the opportunity to explore my city further – it really is a wondrous place!

I hand the baton on to Kenn Taylor, and my question for him is: “Which Liverpool literary figure and library would you point us towards?”



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Sarah-Clare Conlon

Sarah-Clare Conlon is a freelance writer, editor, press officer and digital marketeer for Manchester Literature Festival and The Literateur literary magazine. Her award-winning blog, 'Words & Fixtures' (http://wordsandfixtures.blogspot.co.uk) is about language, literature, arts and culture.