Marks and Spencer Company Archive Trip

March 05, 2017

My course at university does have its perks at times and one of them is definitely the amazing trips that I have been able to go on and the cities that I have been able to explore. Before university I don't recall visiting Leeds or Manchester once and now I'm always hopping on the next train. At the end of January, I visited the Marks and Spencer Company Archive at Leeds University with my course and it was a truly enlightening visit. Before that day, I had never really put much thought into the historical roots of companies which is weird considering how much I love history. The layout of the exhibition was fantastic as each glass cabinet showcased a certain decade and this followed on throughout the entire room so you could physically see how much the company has grown and developed.
I took so many notes that day, definitely too many for a blog post so I wont bore you all with the facts and figures, but instead share one thing that really stood out to me and I can still remember to this day. When you walk into a Marks and Spencer store today, there are so many things available to purchase whether thats food, clothing, homeware, skincare and makeup or children's toys and school uniform. It was such a surprise when I found out that it originated as a market stall in Leeds in the 1880's selling buttons and threads that working class customers could use to make and mend their own clothing. It wasn't until World War Two that the company began to design and sell their own clothes.

The reason I love visiting museums and exhibitions is because I love looking at things that have been around for a long time and imagining all sorts of things in my head like who did it belong to? who created it? how did it end up in this exhibition? History fascinates me so much, so its such a delight that I am able to study the history of fashion as one of my modules.
I thought this particular cabinet had the cutest vintage set up. This showcased products that they sold between 1950 - 1960, which is one of my favourite fashion decades. I absolutely idealise 50's and 60's fashion and pretty much the overall lifestyle of that period in history. I can never get enough of listening to my nana talk about her younger years and the music she listened to, the things she wore, and the things she got up to as youth of those decades.
This is also one of the garments which was once a 1930's silk dressing gown that Alexa Chung used as inspiration for one of the pieces in her 'Archive' collection, The Albion Shirt.
As well as the products that M&S has sold throughout its history, there was also an area in the middle of the exhibition that showcased a few of the uniforms that workers and staff had once worn, even as far back as the first ever one that women wore on market stall which is the garment on the left of the top image above. Furthermore, they also had a wall dedicated to the advertising and promotion side of the company. It was so fascinating to see all it all together on one wall because I got a real sense of the techniques they have used and how this has changed over time.
This exhibition is free to all members of the public and I encourage everyone to visit who is local. You don't even have to be into fashion to enjoy the exhibition as it covers so much more than that including food, children's toys, homeware, beauty, the historical roots, how the company has developed into what it is today, and of course the advertisement and promotion aspect. There is so much to look at and take in. It is honestly a truly fantastic experience! More information can be found on their website.

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