February 1 – March 25, 2019
In 1836, the enormously popular Manchester Music Festival came to a close with a fancy dress ball so grand a temporary structure was built to connect The Portico Library with the nearby Assembly Rooms and Theatre Royal. Though tickets to the celebration were expensive, the event attracted around 5,000 attendees and was reported in newspapers across the country.
In this exhibition, books from the Library’s collection are presented alongside new artworks that examine how dress and costume’s relationships with gender, class, power and identity have always been complicated. Artists Leonce Raphael Agbodjelou, Ruby Kirby, Lindsey Mendick and Camille Smithwick offer expressive works that explore how dress and costume connect with celebration, ritual and morality. These works are complemented by volumes from the collection including Joseph Strutt’s Complete View of the Dress and Habits of the People of England and Lucy Aikin’s Memoirs of the Court of Queen Elizabeth.
Though little-known today, 18th-century engraver Joseph Strutt was at one point called the "most important single figure in the investigation of the costume of the past". He introduces his Complete View of the Dress and Habits of the People of England with examples of ancient Egyptian and Greek garments and goes on to illustrate fashionable dress through the centuries.