c. 1911 Walking Suit Redfern

This elegant black-and-white tweed two-piece ensemble is called a ‘costume’. Coat-and-skirt ensembles such as this would not have been considered suits until after the First World War. During the early 1910s, fashionable women wore slim skirts and neatly fitted blouses, often under quite loosely fitted coats and jackets. This outfit would have been worn as a walking suit. The diagonally striped tweed has the stripes laid out in different directions to create visual interest. The cuffs and skirt are bordered with deliberately mis-aligned bands of the same woollen fabric, intended to catch the eye.

This outfit was made by one of the leading British couturiers of his day, John Redfern. In the 1870s he began designing beautifully constructed, practical tailored garments to meet the requirements of the increasingly active woman. In addition to riding, women had begun to participate in other sports including tennis, yachting and archery. Redfern’s clothes for these pursuits were adopted as everyday wear by royalty, actresses and fashionable women. In 1881 Redfern opened establishments in London and Paris. A few years later in 1884, a Redfern branch opened in New York, with one in Rhode Island the following year. The Redfern fashion houses closed in 1932, briefly reopened in 1936, and closed again in 1940.

The outfit was worn by Miss Heather Firbank (1888-1954). She was a beautiful, wealthy young woman who bought her expensive, high-style clothing from leading London couturiers, such as Lucile, Redfern and Mascotte. She favoured purple and heather tones, which complemented her name. The Museum holds a wide range of clothing and accessories from Heather’s wardrobe between 1905 to 1921.

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