A Visit to Bernberg Museum of Costume

On the corner of Duncombe Road and Jan Smuts Avenue, located in the suburb of Forest Town in Johannesburg, South Africa, a small museum is nestled amongst the neighboring buildings in a little modest house and is known as the Bernberg Museum of Costume. Anna and Theresa Bernberg were not only devoted to the arts and collecting antiques, but left the house and everything they had collected over the years to the Africana Museum. The Africana Museum took possession of the house in 1960 and began refurbishing the house, opening the Bernberg Museum of Costume in 1973.

The Bernberg Museum of Costume deserves more attention than it is currently getting, as not many people know of its existence. Even though visitors are able to complete a tour of the museum within half an hour, it is most definitely worth the visit. It documents the history of women’s clothing from the Edwardian and Victorian eras until present, exhibiting clothing, hair accessories, jewelry and much more.

The fact that some of the pieces in the museum have survived, is testament to the thorough and quality workmanship of the past. Amongst the breathtaking dresses, purses and shoes, visitors will find a few garments that were worn by the men and children of this time period. Two of the most valued garments in the collection are a Voortrekker dress, which is extremely rare to find, and a beautiful dress that was worn by the granddaughter of Queen Victoria, Princess Anne, in 1919. Other garments of interest include a maternity gown, bloomers, corsets, cook’s uniform and kitchen maid uniform. The collection of shoes is fascinating, with a satin shoe that was made round about 1740 stealing the show. Fans in a variety of sizes, colors and decorations fill one display cabinet, while the hats from elegant to extraordinary in style completes the other. Over and above the garments, dresses, wedding dresses, infant garments and accessories, the museum is also home to a collection of pipes, smoking caps, hair combs and decorative clips, jewelry and filigreed steel jewelry. The display of modern day clothing changes quite often as the latest fashion takes on new forms.

Though small and almost hidden to the world, the Bernberg Museum of Costume is a wonderful museum and noteworthy attraction in South Africa. If more people were to visit it, they would discover a gem amongst the hustle and bustle of the city. It is a museum that brings the past into the present, and recounts the changes in society through clothing and personal items that were once worn with pride.