Fashion Unraveled, Exhibit Highlights

The Museum at FIT’s latest history gallery exhibit focuses on unfinished and “imperfect” works of fashion in Fashion Unraveled. This exhibit opened May 25, 2018 and will be open until November 17, 2018.

In this post I highlight some pieces that relate to the Femme Fashion Forward (1880-1930) timeline. The exhibit was broken down into 5 main themes: Mended and Altered, Unfinished, Repurposed, Behind the Seams, and Distressed and Deconstructed. I’ve chosen pieces found in each of these themes, except for Distressed and Deconstructed because most of those objects were from a later date. The exhibit challenges the idea that clothing that has been altered or changed in some way decreases in value, and argues, in many cases, this will add a historic importance to a museum’s collection and can be embraced by modern designers. This blog post does not focus on more recent interpretations of this idea, so you’ll have to head to the Museum to see those particular examples, but I think you’ll enjoy the incredible fashion pieces I’ve selected below from the 1890s and 1920s!

Mended and Altered

These stockings have been darned as the toes and heels became worn, and this was a common practice to preserve the life of such a well worn, luxury item. The Museum notes, however, that this occurred less frequently as the 20th century progressed because ready-made stockings became more available and were inexpensive enough to be treated as a disposable piece of clothing. Soon stockings would be made of a cheaper imitation silk, like rayon and nylon.

1920's Stockings

Blue Silk Knit Stockings, 1920s, USA

Socks and stockings have continued to be viewed as disposable today to the point where it would be highly unusual for someone to darn the holes in the toes of their socks instead of throwing them away. Mending in general is much less common in 2018. Not just for socks, but if a T-shirt or some other clothing item has a hole, many times we’ll toss it before considering repairing the piece ourselves. Some food for thought on how this shift in mind set has changed throughout the 20th century!

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Colette: Fashion through the Eyes of an early 20th Century French Novelist

While many French patriots are familiar with this name, Colette is unfortunately not well-known as an author and icon outside of France. Many attribute this to the difficulty of translating her books into English and other languages, as some of the inherent poetry and meaning is lost or comes across awkwardly in another language.

SidonieGabrielleColette

Colette ca. 1890. Unknown Photographer, [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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5 Fearless Flying Females You Need to Know

Flying in the 1900s was not for the faint of heart. It was relatively so new, the Wright brothers having just sustained the first heavier-than-air aircraft in flight in 1903, and required such skill that crashes were commonplace. The cockpits were uncovered in the open air (no seatbelt) so if the plane were to flip upside-down unexpectedly, pilots could fall out. Not surprisingly, because of the risk and skill involved in piloting a plane, this was considered to be a man’s domain although there were still brave women undeterred.

Not likely to be hired as pilots, adventurous women would often initiate their own air shows and stunt flying, called “barnstorming.”[1] As you can imagine, at that time, not only did spectators want to see the death-defying stunts but also to watch them performed by a female pilot, or aviatrix was an added novelty. As the 20th century progressed, female pilots evolved from barnstorming stunts to achieving new records in flight. Throughout the Femme Fashion Forward period (up until 1930) flying was still dangerous in many regards, and it took certain amount of courage that few possessed.

These women were brave and defied the norm, but often did so with an irresistible flare. Pushing the boundaries of what women were believed capable of, and perhaps with an enviable level of confidence and bravery, it’s no wonder many others looked to them as inspiration. Here are 5 women in particular that you may not have heard of, but at that time were widely known for their skills in the air. From a fashion history perspective, I think it is important to note what these women were wearing, which was often a blend of clothing from the “male” flying domain and womenswear.

 

Harriet Quimby

(1875 – 1912)

Harriet Quimby 2

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A Stitch in Time: Clothing and Textiles of the Meadowlands 1890-1915

Exhibit open at the Meadowlands Museum now through September 29, 2018

A Stitch in Time with Date.jpg

As you may have seen from my recent social media photos, I have been involved with this project for the Meadowlands Museum as a volunteer Curator and spoke last week at the Museum. This project was like a dream come true in terms of being able to curate my own exhibit on fashion history! What surprised me the most was that the more I (and the wonderful exhibition team) dug into the textile industry of this region, the more there was to find. And not just in bits and pieces — more like an avalanche of information!

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Me at the Museum for the Curatorial Talk on 6.2.2018. Behind me you can see a silk gown from 1904 (first made in 1888) and a silk plaid jacket from the late 19th century.

 

Paterson, NJ, now in an economic slump, was once known as the Silk City or the Lyons of America. They had numerous silk mills, silk ribbon factories, and many other ties to producing clothing and textiles. Though Paterson is not in the Meadowlands, it is one of the many towns that neighbors the Meadowlands area. East Rutherford, within the Meadowlands, had a successful bleachery that spanned generations and the bleachery’s owner, William McKenzie, became an active force in shaping both East Rutherford and Rutherford, NJ. Passaic, another neighbor to the Meadowlands, was a major source of wool and cotton production for the nation at this time. They had countless factories producing fine cashmere goods, handkerchiefs, worsted wool goods, etc. Northern New Jersey, also touching the north end of the Meadowlands, I found interesting in terms of why it was chosen as a location for embroidery production. Even today, a sign on an overpass in Union City still reads, “Welcome to North New Jersey: Embroidery Capital of the World Since 1872.” This area was situated between two fashion and textile powerhouses, Paterson and New York City, which provided goods needed as well as skilled factory workers. Also, North New Jersey is built upon sturdy bedrock which was important for the embroidery machines that weighed between 5-8 tons. They drilled 20 foot shafts for the machines into the earth in order to prevent the embroidery needles from vibrating. Kearny, also within the Meadowlands, was a major producer of thread and was home to the well-known Clark Thread Company.

The exhibit is broken up into 4 major sections: Silk, Wool, & Cotton Mills; Buttons and Thread; Bleachery; and Embroidery & Silk Ribbon. Throughout each section, garments from the Museum’s collection are used to highlight these areas of production while connecting this to the larger fashion picture and what stylish residents of the Meadowlands may have worn during that time.

This information just skims the surface of the exhibit, but I hope it’s enough to entice you to head to the Meadowlands Museum and check it out!

For more information on the exhibit, go HERE to the Museum’s website

Lane Bryant Jacket with MM

This Lane Bryant jacket and shirtwaist relates to the section on embroidery. The jacket is from 1915. Lane Bryant was one of the first companies to commercially produce maternity wear and “stout wear,” or plus-size garments.

 

-Danielle Morrin

 

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Wedding Dresses 1888 – 1930

Wedding Blog Post
 info on images below
There’s no doubt that wedding dress styles, though steeped in tradition (and much of this due to precedent set by Queen Victoria), change according to the prevailing modes of the time. This was just as much true between the 1880s-1930s as it is today. In honor of the recent marriage between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on May 19, Femme Fashion Forward will showcase wedding dresses throughout the years of the FFF timeline with stylistic notes.

 

To start off, this video on the exhibition Wedding Belles that took place at the Hillwood Museum from 2011-2012, gives a great overview of the changing styles of wedding dresses. It presents three generations of women’s wedding attire from the Marjorie Merriweather Post family, 1874-1958  >>  Wedding Belles

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