Obscuratorial Finds – Why do we have so many… dresses?

by Alice Quine, Curatorial Assistant

With the museum’s exhibition on weddings opening in the New Year it seemed apt to address the diverse range of dresses we have in the collection. From weddings to work dos, dresses can tell you a great deal about a specific period of history, as well as its owner’s social standing and style.

Wedding Dresses – This voile flapper-style wedding dress was worn by Lily Arbisman at her wedding to Charles Brillianstone, at Bonn’s Hotel, Aldgate in 1925. With a steady income as a skilled shorthand typist, Lily could afford to employ a costume specialist in Hampshire, opting for a short length, beaded and tasselled design reflecting the period of new fashion. The flatter, boyish style highlights a shift away from confining corsets, brought about by the women’s rights movement in post-war Britain.


You can see this dress, as well as others from across different periods of British-Jewish history, at our weddings exhibition, which opens 13 February 2015.

Evening Dresses – As well as being worn for special family occasions, formal events such as dinners and receptions often require women to wear evening dresses. The museum holds numerous invitations and cards from the mid-20th century, with organisations like B’nai B’rith Lodge hosting meetings, and clubs such as Jewish Lads’ and Girls’ Brigade arranging reunions and charity dinners. This blue layered dress dates from around the 1950s, and is elaborately worked around the waist and back with beads, diamante settings and imitation pearls.


Circumcision Dresses – For many Jewish boys, the first (and possibly only) dress they might wear is a circumcision gown. The male circumcision or ‘Brit Milah’ is one of the most important events in a Jewish boy’s life, and so a great deal of effort is put into their appearance for the occasion. This silk and lace gown was worn by Herbert Shibko who was born in Cardiff in 1909.


Bonus: Field Dresses – No blog post would be complete without a seamless (if slightly contrived) bonus object – in this case, field dressing. These would have been carried by soldiers in their military supply packs for quick and easy medical care in the field. This dressing dates from May 1942, and is wrapped in a brown canvas case with directions for use printed on the front.


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