Playing by the rules, childhood, dress and imagination: A new exhibition at Killerton National Trust near Exeter

News Desk
Authored by News Desk
Posted Monday, February 12, 2024 - 12:00am

Opening on 10 February, Killerton’s new exhibition, Playing by the rules, childhood, dress and imagination, will be open to visit every day from 11am, last admission at 3.30pm. 

Using children’s clothes from Killerton’s extensive costume collection, the exhibition explores developments in clothing and fashion for children between the ages of two and twelve over the last 200 years. 

‘What I envy the little girls of today is the fewness and simplicity of their garments...’ (Eleanor Acland, Goodbye for the Present, 1935) 

Lady Eleanor Acland, who lived at Killerton from 1923, may have been onto something when she wrote these words. During her own childhood in the late-Victorian period, clothing was designed to show off family status and, except for play clothes, could be extremely fussy, impractical and uncomfortable.  

The exhibition outlines how attitudes to children’s fashion has changed over two hundred years, including dressing boys and girls almost alike in petticoats until the age of four or five.  

Shelley Tobin, Costume Curator at Killerton, says: ‘Many of the children’s clothes we have in the collection were worn for special occasions and are beautifully made from luxurious fabrics and are exquisitely embroidered and trimmed. We will show a large collection of formal, party and fancy-dress outfits, but we are keen to show the more practical side of childhood too.  

While formal Victorian clothing was often quite restrictive and uncomfortable, this was a period when dress reformers advocated looser fitting and more practical clothes, so we have hard-wearing and washable outfits on display, like the little cotton sailor suits that were so popular up to the 1930s.’  

The exhibition also tells some astonishing stories connected to some of the children who wore the clothing on display, one grew up to be Admiral of the Fleet, another a star of West End musicals and movies.

There is plenty to keep every generation entertained at the exhibition, with an activities area for young visitors to enjoy simple play and a fun game, as well as a small 'design studio' where children can become future fashion designers inspired by the work of the Brownies. Visitors are also encouraged to indulge in nostalgia with a chance to share memories by making a short voice recording or by posting an image of a favourite childhood outfit, toy, or game to Killerton’s social media channels. 

Playing by the rules, childhood, dress and imagination, will be playful with lots of opportunities to join in the fun while exploring the differences between dress now and in the past, from the fantastic and luxurious to the practical and comfortable. 

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