Operated by the National Trust and housed in an 18th-century building, the grand Assembly Rooms played host to dances, recitals, and tea parties. Damaged in World War II, the elegant rooms have been gloriously restored and look much as they did when Jane Austen and Thomas Gainsborough attended society events here.
Housed in the same building, the Museum of Costume sports one of the best collections of fashion and costume in Europe. A fascinating audio tour escorts visitors through the history of fashion -- including accessories, lingerie, and shoes -- from the 16th century to the present day. Highlights include a 17th-century "silver tissue" dress; an ultrarestricting whalebone corset; an original suit, once owned by Dame Margot Fonteyn, from Christian Dior's legendary "New Look" collection; and the ultrasheer Versace dress made famous -- or infamous -- by actress Jennifer Lopez. The museum is also famous for its "Dress of the Year" collection, which highlights notable ideas in contemporary style. Some selections have been notably prescient; its choice for the 1987 dress of the year was by then-unknown designer John Galliano. Only 2,000 of the museum's 30,000 items are on display at any one time, but exhibits change frequently and special themed collections are often presented.