Little Ladies proved to be a hidden gem (and also more closely in line with the FFF timeline). Although most of the pieces date around the 1870s, many of the ideals and pieces themselves would have still been relevant and used in the 1880s, the beginning of the FFF area of study, though some of the silhouettes would have changed.
The exhibit makes the point that these dolls were instructional in the sense that they provided young girls with what to expect in marriage and coming years. Beautifully ornate and detailed, the dolls provided a counterpart to written materials on how a lady should act, what she should wear during very specific times of day (down to the handkerchief placed in her pocket and the bustle under her skirt), and the realms in which she should primarily occupy herself.
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.
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!
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!
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.
This month you may have noticed some posts on Femme Fashion Forward social media featuring images of objects in the Museum at Fashion Institute of Technology’s (FIT)s, The Body: Fashion and Physique exhibit, curated by Emma McClendon, which is open until May 5. If you have not seen it yet, I highly recommend you take a trip to the Museum at FIT! I want to round out this month by including some other objects in the exhibit from the late 19th to early 20th century, although the exhibit extends earlier and later beyond those dates. These selected objects from the exhibit highlight major differences between a stylish silhouette and physique from the 1880s-1910s and today, dispel some myths about corsetry, and may also be cause for reflection upon the ways in which some of these ideals have stayed with us through time.
Both corsets belong to the Museum at FIT: 98.29.4 and P91.43.2
If you haven’t seen it yet, Downton Abbey: The Exhibition, based on the period drama television series (1912-1926), which opened in November 2017 in New York City, is now extended through April 2, 2018! This exhibit is more of a peak behind the curtain than chronological Museum Exhibition of the Downtown Abbey TV series. It is very enjoyable for fans of the show, but in terms of in-depth historical information regarding the clothing, they were lacking in some descriptive labels and information. In this sense, it differs from the prior, Costumes of Downton Abbey, traveling exhibit. Overall, certainly worth a visit, if only to see more than 50 of the show’s outstanding garments in person!
For those who have trouble remembering what happened in some of the episodes by now (like me), here’s a great episode guide
The show is set on three separate floors. The lowest is appropriately attributed to discussing the kitchen and downstairs activities of the Downton Abbey staff. This included a replica of Mrs. Patmore’s kitchen, the servants’ hall, and servants’ uniforms. New recordings of Mr. Carson and Mrs. Hughes welcomed guests into the exhibit and interactive tablets, quizzing guests on what their profession might have been during that time, were fun novelties.