The 50s; an era of colour, aspiration and innovation in it’s decorative and applied arts. Compton Verney is currently home to a wonderful exhibition, exploring ‘Britain in the 50s’ and the post-war design through the average British couple. This period in history marks Britain’s recovery from World War 2 and the Cold War; a time when Britain was required to redesign itself and start from scratch.
A particularly eye-catching part of the exhibition was the female fashion which in fact came from a private collector, Liz Tregenza, who enjoys wearing the fashion of the 50s. I was fascinated to know that the collector designed and created the array of clothing herself to her size and fit. The female clothing of the 50s had a glamorous demeanour that was created with a ‘make do and mend’ ethos, which was shown strongly throughout the exhibition. Tregenza’s collection is all made out of bold patterned material, typical of what most dresses were made out of.
Family life in the 50s had a very clear structure in terms of the roles of mother and father. The typical family size was 2 children with married parents, the father would ‘bring home the bacon’, and the mother would be left at home to take care of the housework and the children. This is clearly seen through the exhibition of ‘Shopping with Mother’, an illustrated Ladybird book. Illustrator Harry Winfield captured the true essence of life in the 50s through his delicately painted illustrations. It was captivating to see the real paintings, you could see every little detail; something not so easy to see in the book.
Shopping With Mother shows 2 well brought up, potentially spoiled children choosing what they want from the shops. Winfield appeared to highlight the middle class white families, presenting an idealist portrait of family life post-war.
The main section of the exhibition showed a domestic side to the 50s, with 3 separate rooms you could go into. Each one had a living space set out like it would’ve been with the domestic appliances that would’ve been used back then. The living room in particular had a sense of presence to it, you felt as though it was someone’s home. Each detail from the wallpaper to the clock on the mantle piece gave a real sense of living in the 50s and what it must have been like.
The overall impact of the exhibition, regardless of whether you remember the 50s or not, evoked a sense of nostalgia. The way the exhibition was put together made me feel involved, as though I were apart of the lifestyle in the 50s. Every little detail had a true authentic feeling to it, enhancing the experience.
Photo above came from the Compton Verney website (screenshot) http://www.comptonverney.org.uk/thing-to-do/britain-in-the-fifties/2016-07-09/