An Olympic Effort: Fashion Curating At The Museum Of London

11/07/2013 20:21 | Updated 22 May 2015

Curators of fashion document our history through what people wear. They investigate societies and cultures and identify their evolution in our clothes, as clothing is a register of social change. While changes in fashion could easily be dismissed as frivolous trends, in truth they rapidly mirror and represent those changes. For example, the restricted morals of the Victorians were quickly reflected into constrictive corsets and cumbersome skirts that impeded movement. This is not only true for the distant past, but also for the present and most recent past. For example, the counter-cultures of the 1960s were reflected in a revolution in dress - from the Mods in plastic reflecting technological advancements to flower children wearing psychedelic prints symbolising principles of freedom and rejection of the conventional. The Museum of London is an active collector of these social changes through material culture.

For over 30 years, the museum has focused on acquiring and documenting London and its history. The museum, however, does not only collect objects, we also collect the stories that connect those objects to the people of London. Even if aesthetically pleasing, an object deprived of its history and context loses a great deal of its importance and connection to us. This is why curators document the stories alongside objects in great detail.

The most recent acquisition at the Museum of London includes material documenting the London 2012 Olympics, all of which will appear in a new display, Opening the Olympics, which opens to the public on Thursday 28 March. Objects such as the Olympic torch, competitor kit and costumes contribute to the display. This includes Tom Daley's swim trunks and Beth Tweddle's gymnastics kit, as well as over 60 ensembles worn at the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics and Paralympics; from punk heads to policemen and NHS nurses to Mary Poppins, this collection documents all four ceremonies. As with every new acquisition, these artefacts are currently being catalogued with special attention being given to the name, location and date of the performance, the name of the costume designer, the materials used and all other available information. However it was through this process that the Museum of London realised a key component of the story was missing: the names of the individuals who had worn the costumes.

With 25,000 costumes worn by 17,500 volunteers between all four ceremonies, it is easy to see how the names of the individual actors were not recorded. However, with all theatrical costumes in the museum's archive, the name of the wearer, the actor, is of vital importance to the history of the object. For the Museum of London, this is a hole in the story we'd like to fill.

This is where we turn to you for help. Did you happen to wear one of these costumes? If so, would you be willing to share your story with us to help better document one of London's great moments? Or perhaps you know of someone else who wore these costumes? Please, let us know; your help will be much appreciated.

Opening the Olympics will open at the Museum of London on 28 March 2013, exactly 200 days after the Paralympic closing ceremony, and will be free to visitors. Will you just visit it or will you be part of it?


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