Close Examination of Extant Clothing

For the past four years, Eleanor has been concentrating her studies upon the extant clothing collection of the Brontë family, which is held at the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, West Yorkshire. Her research always begins with the close examination of an individual garment or accessory, with the taking of measurements, photographs, and detailed notes and sketches. These very specific findings are supplemented by extensive research into contemporary publications and records, industrial practices, memoirs, published works, letters and biographical details. When considered together, this mass of information enables a better understanding not only of the design and manufacturing processes of the item itself, but also of the original owner, their day-to-day lives and the times in which they lived.

How to look at an historical garment

Detailed Measurements: These might tell us the likely height and weight of the wearer.

Alterations: By studying changes it is possible to find out about the garment’s complex history.

Fabric and Design: These details tell us when the garment is likely to have been made and where it might have been worn.

Manufacture of the Materials: Study of this helps us to understand innovations in dyeing, printing, machinery in the period.

Manufacture of the Dress: By studying how a garment has been made, we can learn a lot about the economic status of the family and their position within society.

Comparison: By comparing a garment with others from the period, it is possible to establish whether it was typical of the era or to what extent the design reflects the taste of the original wearer or the fashions of the time.

Supporting Evidence: Clothing cannot be ‘read’ alone. By looking at a garment in conjunction with letters, receipts, fashion plates, novels, magazines, paintings etc. we are able to gain a good understanding of the wearer and the times in which he or she lived.