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Making Mischief: Folk Costume in Britain: Exhibition Review

— Posted on 2nd June 2023

Making Mischief: Folk Costume in Britain: Exhibition 11 February to 11 June 2023, at Compton Verney

Review by Sophia Kinsghill

This exhibition displays costumes from around Britain and across the seasons, from historic relics to modern creations, from nostalgic evocation of rural community to the glamour of carnival. Curators Simon Costin, Mellany Robinson, and Amy De La Haye, as well as contributors Lucy Wright, Chloë Metcalfe, and others, have assembled a fascinating range of archive material, photographs, and contemporary documentation which gives a strong informative background to the visually striking pageant, while clear, knowledgeable commentary supplies guidelines for anyone who comes fresh to the world of costume and calendar custom.

A room devoted to film by Doc Rowe is an immersive tent of surround-sound, where the audience
can become part of jostling crowds watching the Burry Man in action, the daredevil boys shouldering tar barrels in Ottery St Mary, the lettuce-eating dragon of the Chinese New Year. Elsewhere, a wall covered in children’s drawings shows how directly engaged they feel with what they’ve seen. These are clothes, and rituals, that are centrally important to people’s lives, that give structure to the year and meaning to community; aspects of living tradition. The interaction with fashion in the narrower sense is also intriguing: the paper pattern for a New Look ‘Festival Dress’, and the wartime May Queen’s frock made of parachute cotton, two items that directly suggest specific moments of contact between the national and the local.

The exhibition has been at Compton Verney in Warwickshire from February to June 2023, and will
come to the London College of Fashion’s new premises in Olympic Park in April 2024. Catch it in
Warwickshire if you can, or make a note for next year: this is fabulous in all senses, a show not to be
Sophia Kingshill, May 2023

Photos: Sophia Kinsghill