My Inspirations – Doris Langley Moore

Doris Langley Moore 1902 - 1989, c. 1934
Doris Langley Moore 1902 – 1989, c. 1934

Even though I never met Doris Langley Moore and only know a little about her, she has been an inspiration to me.

Born in 1902 and educated in classical languages, Moore wrote several books including a biography of Lord Byron, an etiquette book for society hostesses, and a tongue-in-cheek self-help book called The Technique of the Love Affair – a work Dorothy Parker reviewed in the New Yorker for having “…considerable sense. If only it had been placed in my hands years ago, maybe I could have been successful instead of just successive.”

Moore was also one of the fashion historian pioneers, along with Anne Buck, James Laver and C. Willett Cunnington, who transformed historical fashion research into a reputable field of study. Moore, like many fashion historians, began as a collector, filling her house in London until she had to move to a small flat nearby.

With the opening of the Gallery of Costume in Manchester in 1947 (the first museum in the UK dedicated solely to the history of dress) Moore sought to establish a similar museum using her own collection. The Queen Mother was a fan of Moore’s work and with her influence, Moore established exhibitions at Eridge Castle in Kent and the Royal Pavillion in Brighton.  In 1956 Moore worked with the BBC to create a series of colour films about the history of fashion, showing the clothes on models to demonstrate how the historic dresses were worn and moved.

Although no reputable museum today would consider using their collection in such a manner, these films are worthy documents. I did fashion shows for twenty years, and although the clothes I used in the shows were never from my ‘A-list’ collection and I had very few cases of damage (popped hooks and eyes mostly), I didn’t want the Fashion History Museum to get the reputation for being a giant tickle trunk. Now I am keen in creating a fashion show of forgeries – copies of period dress that are so good they would fool the best expert!

As for Moore’s collection, it was eventually donated to the City of Bath and was opened in the Bath Assembly Rooms in 1963. The Bath Costume Museum renamed itself the Fashion Museum in 2007. Here are the six films (shown in two parts each) created by Moore and released in 1957.

1957 BBC series on fashion history by Doris Langley Moore

If you are interested in primarily 18th, 19th and early 20th century fashion then I highly recommend taking the time to view the following series of films. I never realized this series even existed until about a week ago when I found them on Youtube!

This was apparently the first series ever filmed in colour by the BBC even though they were unable to broadcast in colour for another decade.  The woman speaking is Doris Langley Moore, the founding curator of the Bath Fashion Museum collection in 1963. She uses live models for this 1957 presentation of her authentic clothing, which would make most curators cringe today, however, to see how the dresses move is a fantastic resource. If you watch carefully you may recognize some of the models, including a young Vanessa Redgrave.

I have saved them to a file, there are 6 presentations, shown in two parts each. Each part is about 7 minutes long. If you don’t want to see them all at once, you can go back in and start at a different spot.

BBC history of fashion