The Olive Matthews Collection contains a significant group of fashion accessories. When collecting dress during the early to mid 20th century, Olive Matthews often focussed on small items such as bags, fans, shoes, hats and lace. These small, intricately made items were easy to store and view in larger numbers and they complemented the full garments in her collection; perfectly suiting her love for high quality detailed design. The Accessories Gallery enables us to display a significant proportion of these beautiful accessories together in a purpose-built space. Items are mostly grouped according to type, and the gallery is regularly re-displayed in order to keep things fresh and to rest items that have been out for a while.
The importance of accessories in the history of costume should not be underestimated. Though many of the objects shown in the gallery are highly decorative and subject to great changes in the name of fashion, their origins are more humble. Almost all types of accessory were originally intended to be functional. Even jewellery started out as pins and brooches to hold garments in place. As society evolved, so the role of accessories changed. As well as being practical, they developed into symbols of wealth and status. Accessories of all types became more complex and rich in decoration, sometimes completely transcending their original purpose. The onset of the industrial revolution eventually brought further change to the status of accessories. Mass production techniques developed during the 19th century meant that they became more affordable. Some collectors, including Olive Matthews, felt that this was the end of a golden era of craftsmanship. In addition to the materials and workmanship that went into their creation, historic accessories tell us stories. They offer tiny but revealing clues about the societies of their owners; informing us about etiquette, day-to-day practicalities, and the ways in which people added those vital finishing touches to complete their outfits.
For details about the items displayed, see the Accessories Gallery Guide: