Historian’s tailor-made museum partnership

A research collaboration between the University of Leeds and the city’s museum has helped produce a fascinating new exhibition examining the history of tailoring.

Hardy Amies Teddy boy jacket, Hepworths, 1960s, and Vivienne Westwood 'Winter' suit, 2000


Tailored: A Very British Fashion, opens today (Friday 17 July) at Leeds City Museum and celebrates the art and heritage of tailoring from the 19th century to today.

Co-curated by fashion historian Danielle Sprecher, a PhD student in the School of History, the free exhibition brings together a wide range of examples of British tailoring and explores the legacy that these skills and styles bring to today’s fashions.

It is the public-facing element of the University’s research partnership with Leeds Museums and Galleries, and aims to fit the suit and Leeds tailoring into the broader context of fashion history.  

The show explores the development of tailoring as a renowned British skill, from Savile Row in London to the Leeds tailoring industry, and includes a major loan from London’s V&A of Ringo Starr’s jacket, made by Leeds-trained tailor Dougie Millings, and a bespoke suit commissioned as part of the exhibition by acclaimed tailor Kathryn Sargent.

Leeds-born Sargent was the first woman in the history of Savile Row to hold the position of Head Cutter, and is now the first woman to run her own Savile Row tailoring house.  The suit is made from handwoven wool cloth, finished in a Yorkshire mill, and is a pivotal 21st century piece within the exhibition.

This major exhibition at the city’s flagship museum includes a diverse selection of garments for men and women charting the changes in tailoring and fashion history.  It draws on the nationally important Leeds Museums and Galleries collection, which includes many of the big names of Leeds tailoring such as Montague Burton and Hepworth.

Another high street name with its roots in the city is Marks & Spencer. The exhibition includes an example of the firm’s “sustainable suit”, on loan from the M&S Company Archive, which is based at the University. Other items draw on the University’s ULITA archive of international textiles.

The exhibition also explores the impact of tailoring on style from country wear to formal attire, for the aristocracy to the working class, and includes exquisite examples across the centuries such as a 19th century ladies’ riding habit, made by Leeds’ Legg and Millard, and tailored jackets for working men and women from the 1800s to the 1930s.

Kathryn Sargent’s suit highlights the 21st century’s contribution to the tailoring legacy and the creation and display of this bespoke garment is further complimented with work by contemporary fashion designers Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen and Roger Saul for Mulberry.

Tailored: A Very British Fashion runs from 17 July to 3 January 2016 at Leeds City Museum, Millennium Square, Leeds, LS2 8BH. It is open every day except Monday (open Bank Holidays) 10am-5pm Tuesday to Friday and to 7pm on Thursdays, weekends 11am to 5pm.  Free entry to all visitors.

Banner image shows the London studio of Kathryn Sargeant (image credit Sara Porter, courtesy of Leeds Museums & Galleries)

Posted in: