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Reconstructed eighteenth-century stays with blue and orange detailing.

Eleanor Hadfield – “Gaining confidence in MA Historical Costume and finding my own path”

When I graduated from Aberystwyth University with a degree in Scenography and Theatre Design in 2022, I was unsure whether I wanted to return to education. I loved Aberystwyth, but needed some time to process my experiences of attending university during a pandemic; I wanted to try new things and have adventures outside an educational setting. I didn’t feel that I could go straight into industry after my degree and wasn’t even sure that I wanted to. I needed to gain more experience and confidence and to find a way forward.


I applied for MA Historical Costume at AUB because it seemed to sit right at the intersection of several of my interests: history (particularly dress history), performance design and costume. When I attended an online open day talk, I was impressed by the structure of the course, the work of recent graduates and the calibre of staff and their diverse backgrounds and experiences. I was also interested in coming to a specialist arts university, curious as to how the experience would be different, being back by the sea was a bonus. It seemed settled; I applied and was offered a place.

I knew quickly after arriving that I had made a good decision, between the friendly people and campus atmosphere and jumping straight into a course and projects which felt interesting, challenging and rewarding.

One of my favourite projects thus far has been contributing to Salisbury Museum’s new exhibition Fashioning Our World: Unpicking the Past to Thread Together the Future. Inspired by a pieced embroidered pocket, I made 18th century inspired patchwork pockets and researched attitudes to textiles and a collective loss of material literacy, as well as patchwork and mending as inadvertently sustainable practices of the past.

Other projects have introduced me to studying extant garments, including some rare pieces like an early 1600s embroidered jacket and c.1700 bodice. I’ve also studied mid-18th century stays and a pair of c.1850-1860 Victorian under-sleeves. My research has included finding and analysing primary documents, secondary reading, visiting museums and thinking critically about using photographs and paintings as valuable resources.

As well as gaining confidence in research skills, I’ve developed my practical making abilities in a project for which I learned and applied historical making techniques to a reconstruction of a pair of 18th century stays, contextualising my making with historical research and wider reading about reconstruction and remaking as a legitimate academic practice.

All these projects have allowed me to pursue my interest in dress history further, given me new ideas or exposed me to a way of working which I might like to adopt in any future work, whether that be in more traditional costuming for performance, working in museums or something else entirely.

Most recently, I completed an internship as an exhibition assistant at Blandford Fashion Museum for the new exhibition Our Sporting Heritage, which showcases examples of historical sportswear to coincide with the Paris 2024 Olympics. Over several weeks, I helped prepare the exhibition space, choose and measure items, select and pad appropriate mannequins, mount garments and prepare exhibition texts.

Over the coming months, I’ll continue to volunteer for the museum to assist in the ongoing task to photograph and digitise their collection of over 5,000 items. This was a fantastic learning experience and opportunity to glance behind the curtain of a museum, to get some sense of what it takes to put on a new exhibition.

So, with all these experiences, what next? Well, that’s the thing – I'm still not perfectly clear about that, but I can say that I feel more confident and more equipped to forge my own path and to seek opportunities in the world of dress history, heritage and performance than I did just six months ago.

Check out more of Eleanor's work on Instagram.

Something to think about

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