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On 31 October 2014, Dr Chris Lee presented Margaret’s Wardrobe at the National Museum of Scotland, as part of Luminate: Scotland’s Festival of Creative Ageing. This illustrated talk showed how personal collections can help preserve self-identity, and how our museum collections continue to stimulate memories and discussion.

About Margaret's Wardrobe

Margaret with her fabulous wardrobe

By 2008 Margaret had been many things; a woman, a nurse, an air hostess, a wife and a mother, as well as a considerable shopper, but she had also begun to forget things and one day after shopping in Paisley she couldn’t remember how to get home. 

Margaret as a state registered staff nurse, 1952

Above: Margaret as a state registered staff nurse, 1952.

Margaret as a BEA Stewardess

Above: Margaret as a BEA stewardess, 1954.

As Margaret’s identities and abilities began to fade, with the onset of Dementia, those around her struggled to help her maintain them and her wardrobe became a vital reminder of her self-image and identity.  

Aware of her increasing memory loss, Margaret was persuaded to live with family in part of their house. Margaret showed very little interest in this process, apart from one request. "Can I have a wardrobe for my clothes? Oh those lovely clothes, I was naughty wasn’t I, I do love a label you know?" Those clothes provided a wonderful vehicle for accessing Margaret’s life story and stimulating her memory, as she loved not only to talk about them but to touch and feel them.

  • "I do love a label, you know" - outfits from Margaret's collection

    "I do love a label, you know" - outfits from Margaret's collection
  • Dress from Margaret's collection

    Dress from Margaret's collection
  • Baccarat suits

    Baccarat suits
  • Baccarat coat and dress

    Baccarat coat and dress
  • Baccarat wool coat

    Baccarat wool coat
  • Kurt Geiger peep-toes

    Kurt Geiger peep-toes
  • Bruno Magli sandals

    Bruno Magli sandals
  • Rayne sandals

    Rayne sandals
  • Black evening gown

    Black evening gown
  • Salmon pink dresses

    Salmon pink dresses
  • Rayne handbag

    Rayne handbag

Margaret purchased a large number of outfits from Frasers in Buchan Street, Glasgow, with labels from expensive manufacturers such as Baccarat, Jaeger and Aquascutum. These were classic tailored, British outfits. From time to time there were, however, some surprising purchases which were rather out of character, such as a number of glamorous evening dresses. 

Margaret’s favourite outfit, was, however, in a soft printed fabric by Bernat Klein one of the leading Scottish textile designers of the last century.

Mgt Baccarat Dress

Above: Margaret's favourite outfit.

Our fashion collections

We teamed Chris with Georgina Ripley, Curator of Modern and Contemporary Fashion and Textiles, who brought along clothes from the Jean Muir handling collection.

Jean Muir13

Above: Model Anna Fremantle wearing a vintage Jean Muir dress. © Copyright Sandy Young.

This handling collection was acquired as a separate learning aid to support the acquisition of the Jean Muir archive by National Museums Scotland in 2005, with the purpose to allow visitors to be able to touch and get a feel for the essence of a Jean Muir garment. Georgina talked about Jean Muir and the collection in relation to Margaret’s story, focusing on Muir’s fastidious attention to detail and Margaret’s own love of buttons and quality tailoring, and considering the tactility of Muir’s signature fabrics in reference to the importance of the link between the senses and memory when facing dementia, and how clothing can help to spark memories.

A further link between Margaret’s Wardrobe and the fashion and textile collection at National Museums Scotland is her fondness for the textile designer Bernat Klein, whose archive the Museum acquired in 2010. The collection spans from c.1952 – 1992 and includes textile samples, garments, design development material, press cuttings and commercial ephemera. The great strength of both the Jean Muir and Bernat Klein collections is that they provide a snapshot of the British fashion and textile industries in the twentieth century and are an invaluable resource to students, industry practitioners and enthusiasts for the fact that they document every stage of the design process.

A selection from both collections is on display in our Fashion and Style gallery at the National Museum of Scotland. Access to the wider collection in storage is possible by appointment with the Art and Design department.

For more information about Dr Chris Lee visit Find out more about our current Museum Socials programme for people with dementia here.

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