Fast x Slow Fashion

Exploring the relationship between clothes shopping and people in Leeds, from 1720 to the present day. The exhibit shows how clothes shops have changed, but also highlights how people have sought alternative ways to consume fashion.

By Leeds Museums & Galleries

Based on a current exhibition at Leeds City Museum

Clothing trade engraving showing Leeds and Wakefield (1684/1715) by Christopher BrowneLeeds Museums & Galleries


‘The prospects of the two most remarkable Towns in the North of England For the Clothing Trade, Leeds as it appears from Holbeck Road’, demonstrates how important Leeds was in the clothing industry from the 1680s onwards. Leeds was a rich and populous town heavily involved in manufacturing cloth and clothing. By the end of the 1700s there were 20 large factories that aided the production of cloth, from spinning to dyeing. 

Map of Leeds (c. 1851) by John Tallis & Co.Leeds Museums & Galleries


By the late 1800s Leeds was a booming industrial town. There were over 400 tailors and dress-makers. The majority of dress-makers were now women.     

Map of Leeds (c. 1938) by Geographia Ltd.Leeds Museums & Galleries


In the 1900s the high-street as we know it is formed. We see some independent stores, but chain stores outnumber them 10 to 1. We now see less high-street stores opening as the rise of internet shopping takes hold.    

Bespoke shopping (2019/2020) by David LindsayLeeds Museums & Galleries

Bespoke shopping

In the past the majority of clothes were bought tailor-made. Your suit was made by a tailor, a dress by a mantua-maker, and your corset by a stay-maker. Garments were measured, cut and sewn to fit a particular person. There was more work involved with purchasing a garment too.

Riding habit (1880/1890) by Legg & MillardLeeds Museums & Galleries

This riding suit, or riding habit, was purchased and made at Legg & Millard in Leeds. The shop would have had shelves of textiles on view for customers to choose from. Riding habits were worn when horse riding.    

Top hat (Late 19th century) by John Craig HattersLeeds Museums & Galleries

Mr Holliday wanted a hat for everyday wear. He ventured to a specialist in the trade: John Craig Hatters. The hatters used a special head measuring device to create life-size drawings of their customer’s heads. This then allowed them to make perfectly fitting hats.    

Bespoke shopping by David LindsayLeeds Museums & Galleries

A person would visit a number of shops before a garment was wearable: a market to select dyed cloth, a haberdashery for buttons and lace trimmings before finally visiting the maker. Buyers often developed a good relationship with their maker. The striped paletot, or summer jacket, was worn by Mary Holden Illingworth.     

Photograph of Mary Holden Illingworth (1863)Leeds Museums & Galleries

Mary, daughter of Bradford wool magnate Sir Isaac Holden, bought clothes in Leeds and Bradford. In a letter to her sister, she writes: ‘I have ordered this morning... one silk summer mantle... I feel in a perfect whirl of excitement.’  

Bespoke shopping (2019/2020) by David LindsayLeeds Museums & Galleries

Bespoke clothing was and remains an expensive process. Today tailor-made clothing is a luxury. It is no longer an everyday practice like it was 300 years ago. In part this is due to the rise of cheap, mass produced goods. Most people would only consider going to a specialist maker for a special occasion.    

Shopping in Leeds: Schofields wall (2020) by David LindsayLeeds Museums & Galleries

A perfect fit

Jean Hough saw this striking red outfit in Schofields’s shop window. The shop assistant organised to take it off display. The assistant told Jean ‘it was the only one left’ but would ‘fit her perfectly!’ Jean couldn’t resist and returned the following week to complete the purchase.

Two piece skirt suit (1951) by Anna of LeedsLeeds Museums & Galleries

Jacqueline Brotherton-Ratcliffe had her clothes tailor-made at Anna of Leeds. She had at least 15 separate garments made here. After flicking through her favourite Vogue magazine, Jacqueline cut images out to show her seamstress. This garment was probably inspired by Dior’s New Look.    

Receipt (1881) by Hughes, Robes Modes et NouveautesLeeds Museums & Galleries

A bill for making up a dress, price £14-14-0. From Hughes, Robes Modes et Nouveautes, Portman Sq., London, for Miss Ashton, for the making up of two dresses, dated Dec 1881.  

Afternoon dress (1881)Leeds Museums & Galleries

Harriet Ashton visited the fancy French store Madam Hughes in London. She had two dresses made. The dressmaker would have a small selection of garments to browse and drawings of designs offered. Harriet could change any dress to suit her own taste.    

Paisley dress - sideLeeds Museums & Galleries

Kay Jones purchased this dress for special occasions. She remembers shopping in Lewis’s as a child with her mother. They choose Lewis’s as their go-to department store because it was more affordable than others.   

Suit jacket and waistcoat Suit jacket and waistcoat (1940s) by Matthias Robinson Ltd.Leeds Museums & Galleries

Mr Hargreaves bought this suit from Matthias Robinson, which was a rather up-market department store in Leeds. He also purchased a ready-made waistcoat from Rufus Sanderson. He probably wore it with one of his dinner shirts purchased at high-street retailers nearby.    

Buff boxcloth suit (1775/1780) by Kenneth Wright SandersonLeeds Museums & Galleries

A man in pursuit of outdoor activities wore this suit when riding or shooting. The suit is made of a heavy wool so it would keep the wearer warm. The man of the house, his son, or a servant may have have worn this suit.    

Pair of stays Pair of stays (Mid-late 18th century)Leeds Museums & Galleries

Attention to detail

Women would visit a stay-maker, or corset-maker, for an intimate fitting. If you were wealthy a stay-maker would visit you in the comfort of your own home.

Silk chiné dress Silk chiné dress (1770/1840)Leeds Museums & Galleries

This silk chiné dress was originally made in the 1770s. It was then severally altered around 60 years later, resembling a fashionable 1840s gown. People would make use of old textiles as cloth was so expensive.     

Silk chiné dress - constructionLeeds Museums & Galleries

People would make use of old textiles as cloth was so expensive. The gown might have been handed down through a family or it might have been purchased through the second-hand trade.    

Quilted petticoat (c. 1770)Leeds Museums & Galleries

In the 1700s a customer could buy ready-made quilted petticoats. Stockists included warehouses or a drapers shop. They had adjustable waists to fit a range of sizes. The petticoat was worn underneath a dress with a chemise, or shirt. This is a reproduced chemise.  

Ethical consumption (2019/2020) by David LindsayLeeds Museums & Galleries

Home dress-making

Home dress-making was hugely popular from the 1910s onwards. Although people in history have always made their own clothing, making garments from a pattern was now a luxury activity.

Ready-to-wear (2019/2020) by David LindsayLeeds Museums & Galleries

Until the 1900s, home dress-making was a skill most young girls and women had. Women made their own clothes at home to reduce their expenditure. As clothes become more readily available home dress-making gave people the opportunity to be individual.    

Ethical consumption (2019/2020) by David LindsayLeeds Museums & Galleries

Textiles and clothes were incredibly expensive in the past and so people found ways to extend the life of their clothing. Garments were handed down, mended and remade. This was a necessity in the 1700s and 1800s. It formed part of people’s daily lives. As people have become more aware of the effects of ‘fast’ fashion, these ‘slow’ skills are becoming popular again.    

Ready-to-wear (2019/2020) by David LindsayLeeds Museums & Galleries

The second-hand trade has a long history in Leeds, too. The rag ‘n’ bone man would collect textiles and sell them to people that could not afford new clothes. By the late 1990s and into the 2000s charity shops and vintage stores became incredibly popular and remain so today.    

This exhibit was inspired by the Fast x Slow Fashion exhibition currently on show at Leeds City Museum.

Credits: Story

The orange paisley dress and wedding dress were loaned to Leeds Museums & Galleries by Kay Jones and Jan, respectively. 

Photography by David Lindsay and Norman Taylor.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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