Because the topic of the symposium was Fashion and Technology, and the Cincinnati Art Museum was a sponsor of the symposium, I’d guess that it’s not a coincidence that the museum had an exhibition also titled Fashion and Technology. I think that we most often think of LED lighting and 3-D printing and smart chips embedded in clothing when confronted with the idea of technology in fashion, but we need to remember that technological advances in clothing date back to the fig leaf.
This small but well-curated exhibition covers roughly one hundred years, starting in 1780. The dress above shows a very old method of making printed fabrics – that of using hand-carved blocks that were used to hand print the design. It was effective, and made beautiful designs, but the process was very slow. Multiple blocks had to be used, one for each color in the design.
A big step forward came around 1800 in the form of roller printing, in which mechanized rollers were used to print onto the fabric. There was a similar process, using cylinders to mechanically apply the dye. The fabric used to make this circa 1830 dress was most likely printed using a combination of the two processes.
This circa 1850 dress helps illustrate the advances made in dye production. Synthetic dyes were developed in the late 1850s, and before that time, dyes were made from natural materials with a mordant added to help set the color. The plaid in this dress was produced by dyeing the threads different colors, and then setting up the loom to produce the pattern.
The creation of mauveine, the first practical synthetic dye, in 1856 brought spectacular colors to fashion. This circa 1863 dress has synthetic purple trimming, and the little flowers in the print are mauveine.
Another technological advance seen in this dress is the use of machine-made lace.
As a side note, like many dresses of this period, this one has two bodices. The second bodice is in storage, and we were able to see it on our tour of the storage area.
Here we have two dresses of roughly the same era, The dress on the left is by Paris couturier Jacques Doucet and dates to around 1888. Even though machine made lace was common by that date, this dress is embellished with handmade lace. Maybe the woman for whom this dress was made wanted to incorporate a piece of heirloom lace, or may she just wanted to show off her wealth.
The dress on the right is from a few years earlier, but here the couturiers, Moret et Moncuit, used machine made lace. Because machine made lace was less expensive than the handmade variety, more of it could be used to embellish a gown.
I’m guilty of looking at a pre-twentieth century garment and only seeing the design. Fashion and Technology shows us there is so much more to see.