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The Alice Look

I’d been meaning to visit the Museum of Childhood’s exhibition to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Alice in Wonderland, The Alice Look, since it opened on 2nd May, and I finally got round to going on its last weekend. To be honest, it was more of a display than an exhibition, consisting of five or six display cases, but in fairness, like the main museum, it was free to visit. I did find it interesting.

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Modern, Victorian-style “Alice” dress, made from fabric printed with the book’s text

The exhibition is divided into four categories, looking at Alice’s beginnings, her role as a follower of fashion, the inspiration her image has had on successive generations, and global Alice. I was interested to note that Lewis Carroll, who created the original illustrations in his handwritten manuscript of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground (the early version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland), purposely gave his Alice long blonde hair to differentiate her from the real-life Alice Liddell, his inspiration, who had black bobbed hair. The early coloured images of Alice showed her wearing a yellow Victorian-style frock, and she didn’t have a hairband and stockings until the release of the sequel, Alice Through the Looking Glass. Surprisingly, it wasn’t until the 1951 Disney movie that she was given a blue dress, the colour now most associated with her. It was interesting to look at the illustrations from early 20th century editions of Alice: they largely matched the fashions of the time, with Twenties editions, for instance, showing Alice wearing a drop-waist dress.

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Japanese “Lolita” style Alice costume

I enjoyed seeing how Alice’s look has inspired popular culture around the world: particularly interesting to me were a Japanese “Lolita” style Alice costume and a Swahili Alice in a kanga dress. I also remembered Gwen Stefani’s video for “What You Waiting For” which was strongly inspired by Alice. I’m glad I made the effort to go, even though the exhibition was small.

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