Twentieth Century Fashion: Norfolk designers, illustrators and manufacturers

This week marks the start of Norwich Fashion Week 2016 and here at the Norfolk Record Office we hold many records of Norfolk’s clothing past, from shawls and silks, to shoes and handbags. While many of these industries have dwindled or disappeared over time, for those interested in fashion, archive sources contain a wealth of information about these past industries. Letters, diaries and travel accounts, trade records and parliamentary sources can all help us to build a picture of how fashion has changed over time.

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Pages from the journals of Hilda Zigomala, created 1889-1920. NRO catalogue number MC 2738.

Some highlights from the collection

Journals and designs

The journals of Hilda Zigomala

Born in Rougham, Norfolk, in 1869, Hilda Zigomala travelled the world and attended countless balls, races and social events, all of which she lovingly recorded over 30 years, in 15 illustrated journals.

Hilda’s first journal starts on her wedding day, on 16 January 1889, when she married Major Pandia John Zigomala. The couple initially lived in Surrey and moved to India, soon after. Life in India was very good for the couple. They maintained a very good social life, with invitations to the Maharajah’s fancy dress ball and later, the flower ball. In 1897 the family moved back to England, eventually settling at 44 Egerton Gardens, London.

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The Maharajah’s Fancy Dress Ball, Bangalore, 30 August 1893. NRO catalogue number MC 2738/3.

Although life in London wasn’t always great, Hilda was often on the move and documented evenings out and holidays through her journals. Her many accounts of time spent at Rougham include much of country living, and the outdoor pursuits enjoyed by the upper classes, such as horse riding, fishing, shooting, rabbiting, ferreting and playing tennis and croquet. Through these illustrations the everyday and formal wear of Britain’s upper classes, in the early twentieth century, can be traced.

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Playing tennis on the court at Rougham Hall, from the journals of Hilda Zigomala. NRO catalogue number MC 2738/6.

Fashion in the 1930s, designs by Monica Riches

The designs of Monica Riches, a Norfolk dressmaker, reflect the creativity of fashion design in the 1930s. The Great Depression and the Second World War meant that fabric was in short supply, so dresses of this period were characterised by shorter hemlines, figure hugging designs and the use of synthetic textiles. The house dress and men’s suits for women also became a popular look. House dresses were made from printed fabrics and embellished with bows, ruffles, lace and decorative buttons while two-piece suits had coloured linings and figure flattering shapes to make them feminine.

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A fashion design by Monica Riches, 1936. NRO catalogue number MC 2955.

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A women’s suit, designed by Monica Riches, 1935. NRO catalogue number MC 2955.

A student of Norwich Art School, Monica Riches was born in 1912, in Attleborough, the daughter of Frank and Hilda Mary Egmore Riches (née Pooley). In the 1930s, the family moved to Suffolk, where Monica worked as a dressmaker and ran a shop in Felixstowe, selling dress fabrics and patterns, and acting as an agent for Singer sewing machines. It is unclear whether the designs we hold date from this period of her life, or from earlier, when she was living in Norfolk.

Business and trade records

For those interested in the history of textiles and trade, the archive contains a wide range of records of Norfolk trades including:

  • Clothworkers
  • Drapers
  • Weavers
  • Bootmakers
  • Handbag manufacturers

A small sample of these records can be found below.

Letters and accounts of people involved in trade

Business records

Photographic records

With such a rich history to the story of textiles in Norfolk, this blog can only give you an overview of the collection we hold. However, if you are interested in finding out more, all of these records are available to consult in our search room.

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