Category Archives: Museums

Cinematic Couture, Part III

I bet you could have guessed that this set of costumes is from Downton Abbey.  Though spread over several years, the three dresses in front represent the Crowley sisters, Edith, Sybil, and Mary.  Edith’s dress is from the fifth season, and so is from the mid 1920s. If you can remember, Edith was the “plain” sister. In the middle is a Sybil dress, circa 1912, as is Mary’s red dress on the right.

In the background are Earl and Countess Grantham, the girls’ long-suffering parents.

From the back we can see there is more to Edith than meets the eye.

One thing I love about SCADFASH is that the place fosters conversation between visitors and docents. There was a pair of young women who were touring the exhibition at the same time a us, and it surprised me that neither of them had seen Downton Abbey.

If ever a movie in recent memory was known for the hats, it was Titanic. Because of the lighting I was not able to be a really good shot of all of them. And I really could not get one that shows just how massive some of these were.  I wonder if women during this period had neck problems from trying to balance those things on their heads?

When looking at costumes, I find that I get more from seeing the ones from the movies and programs I have actually seen. Take this one, for example, and imagine Meryl Streep as Karen Blixen in Out of Africa, as she prepares to make the mistake of a lifetime by marrying the wrong man.

This costume was worn by Nicole Kidman as Virginia Woolf in The Hours. 1920s fashions are really tough on even the slimmest body, but Kidman actually looked pretty great in this dress and coat.  I’m not sure why this is not so successful on the mannequin because it really is a nice coat and a great dress,

It does look better from this angle. You can at least see the pretty work on the dress.

It has a light blue lining with a cut-work  cotton dress. The brown embroidery on the cut-work really does enhance the brown of the coat.

Cosprop is owned by John Bright, who is also a collector of historical dress. Much of his collection can be seen on his website, The John Bright Collection.

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Cinematic Couture at SCADFASH, Part II

Let’s start Part II with this great costume from Elizabeth. This silk velvet gown was worn by Cate Blanchett as Queen Elizabeth in this 1996 film.  The designer was Alexandra Byrne, who co-incidentally designed the costumes for the currently showing Mary Queen of Scots. It would be interesting to compare the costumes for Mary and Elizabeth in both films.

I loved the way this one was mounted with the mannequin’s arms spread wide to show some very spiffy sleeves.

In 1989 designer James Acheson won the Oscar for best costume design for Dangerous Liaisons.  This exhibition had three dresses from the film, which was set in eighteenth century France. These costumes show just how much work goes into a costume drama of this magnitude. The dresses we saw were worn by two of the more minor characters (and older women to boot) but the detail and design might make one think these dresses were the true stars of the show.

The back view shows the fashionable sack back.

This dress was worn by actress Mildred Natwick as Madame de Rosemonde. It was her last film role. She was eighty-three years old at the time!

This costume was also worn by Mildred Natwick. What a way to end a long and varied career!

And finally, this gown worn by Swoozie Swartz, who at forty-five was a youngster compared to Natwick. Still, it’s great seeing “older” women dressed fashionably, and not in dark colors as is so often the case.

These four costumes are from The Duchess, which starred Keira Knightley, and which won a best costume design Oscar for designer Michael O’Connor.  I need to say at this point that there were, in fact many men’s costumes on display as well, but a simple suit with knee pants tends to be over-shadowed by a lavish silk gown.

Both of the gowns is this set were worn by Knightley.  I have been reading a lot about eighteenth century fashion lately, but I have so much to learn. Still, costumes from this period always seem to be oddly over-ornamented.  Feel free to correct me if I’m wildly off base.

That is a hair style I’ll never understand. I do try, however not to make judgments about the clothing, hair, and make-up of people in the past.

Since costumes have to be practical, they often don’t have historically correct closures. It’s not very often that one sees a zipper in a pre-1930s costume these days, but eighteenth century bodices seem to present access problems. This dress was closed using hook and eyes.  And the stomachers seen above in the Dangerous Liaisons costumes above were sewn (rather than pinned) shut. Was the actress literally sewn into her robe?

The three costumes above were worn by Jenna Coleman in the BBC television series, Victoria. This program is about the young Victoria, and so begins in 1837 as she ascended to the throne.  Here is my favorite of the entire exhibition, a nautical-inspired riding habit. You can’t tell from my photo, but the red band on her cap is lace. Very queenly.

The other costumes from Victoria were not as successful. I thought this dress, used in a ballroom scene in the program, was too shiny. Okay, it looked cheap.

And I hate this photo because it does not convey just how interesting the robe is, and not in a good way. The exhibition guide tells me that the fabric was specially digitally printed, I’m assuming to replicate the original, but it just looks like someone’s old drapes, especially with the gold fringe. I’ve looked at stills from the show, and on film it looks much better, which is what matters.

The crowns were not part of the loan from Cosprop, so SCAD student Tina Gancev designed and 3-D printed the one in the exhibition. They are amazing.

I’ll finish up next time with costumes from the twentieth century.

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Cinematic Couture at SCADFASH, Atlanta

I had the great fun of driving to Atlanta to spend the afternoon with friend Liza at the latest exhibition at SCADFASH, Cinematic Couture. As the name tells us, this was a show of film costumes. SCADFASH does not have a huge permanent collection from which to mount lavish exhibitions, so they rely on shows that travel. This one is from Cosprop, a UK based costume house.

If the name sounds familiar, that’s because the exhibitions at Biltmore Estate I written about have also used Cosprop.  If you are a fan of British costume dramas, you have seen Cosprop’s work. They have provided costumes for everything from Downton Abbey to the 1996 version of Pride and Prejudice.

I was a bit concerned that this exhibition would be a repeat of costumes we had already seen, and there was indeed a bit of overlap. However, it was the experience of seeing the same garments at two different venues that ended up being one of the biggest revelations of this visit.

There’s so much that I love about SCADFASH exhibitions, so I’ll start there. The big first thing is the ability to get close to the garments. At Biltmore some of the garments are behind glass due to their being displayed in unmonitored locations. The dress, above left, is an embroidered wool dress worn by Anne Hathaway in Becoming Jane, a film about how Jane Austen became the writer we know, and most of us love. We didn’t give it much of a second look when we saw it at Biltmore.

But here we can see the same dress as presented at SCADFASH. The mounting was so much better, but it was being able to actually see and appreciate the details that made the difference. The dress at Biltmore was in a hotel public space, and the windows caused so much glare that the dress sort of disappeared into the glass cage.

I’m always amazed at all the work that goes into just one costume. This dress was hand embroidered, though some of the others had smaller areas of machine embroidery.

Well, I’m sorry that the back view is poor, but the point is that you can see the back.  Most of the costumes are displayed on circular platforms that are pulled away from the wall enough so that visitors can go behind most of the garments. The docent who was assisting us said that was a deliberate choice because so many visitors were trying to squeeze behind the exhibits to see the backs. So thanks SCAD for making it easy for us.

Just so you’ll not think I’m picking on Biltmore, here’s another comparison shot. This dress was worn by Emma Thompson is Sense and Sensibility. On the left is the dress at SCADFASH, and on the right you see it at Biltmore. While the glare on glass is still distracting, I like the mount better, especially the way the shawl is draped.  And the fit just looks better as well.

Again we are treated to the back of this costume, with that lovely little train. You could see the back at Biltmore as well, but it seemed a bit cramped in that glass box.

Here you can see the lovely texture of the dress and of the shawl, but you can also see one big old blaring anachronism: shiny modern synthetic gloves. We had a bit of a discussion with the docent, and then the curator appeared and we had a word or two with him as well. As it turns out, Cosprop sent the gloves used in the films, but in many cases they were too small to fit on the mannequins’ hands. We tried to point out that the exhibits would look better with no gloves at all than with these silly shiny things.

It seems like Jane Austen is always a favorite, and my guess is that costumes were chosen at least in part because they were likely to have been seen by most visitors.  This costume was worn by Miss Bingley in Pride and Prejudice.

And this was worn by the other Bingley sister, Mrs. Hurst.  I don’t have a photo of the dress representing the heroine of Pride and Prejudice, Lizzie Bennet, but her dress was quite plain in comparison to the richer city girl Bingleys.

This is a button from Mr. Darcy’s waistcoat. The button is hand embroidered, but the buttonhole looks machine made to me. Still, it shows an amazing concern toward the details.

My last Regency/Austen photo is this crocheted silk pineapple purse. It was carried by Elizabeth Elliot in Persuasion.  It just goes to show how one special little piece can really make one’s costume.

In my next installment we’ll go back in time to the Georgians, and forward to the Victorians.

 

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Fabulous Fashion at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Part II

You might have guessed that the next theme addressed by Fabulous Fashion is color. First up is this 2013 dress which is a reinterpretation of a 1952 dress made from fabric designed by artist Ellsworth Kelly. This dress was made by Calvin Klein Collection.

If it is difficult to imagine that dress as originating in 1952, the museum has kindly provided visitors with a photo of the original dress, along with Kelly’s study for it.  Anne Weber, the woman in the photo, actually sewed the dress using the Kelly-created fabric.

I am sorry about the fuzziness of this photo. I am working on this; I promise.

Left to right:

Charles James, 1955 Pagoda Suit. There are solid color versions of this suit, which better show James’s trademark structure. I actually did not recognize this as a Charles James until the docent pointed it out.

Issey Miyake, 1994 Flying Saucer Dress. This style of Miyake’s folds flat like a paper lantern.

Giorgio di Sant’ Angelo, 1971 bodysuit and skirt. Haute Hippie.

This 1962 palazzo pants ensemble was designed by Italian Irene Galitzine. The difference in color of the skirt and the jumpsuit is due to the jumpsuit being beaded. This piece was getting a lot of attention from the crowd, and it deserved it.

This cheerful top and skirt was one of my favorites. It’s by Stephen Burrows, made in 1971 for his boutique within the Henri Bendel store in New York. Burrows is one of those designers that I remember fondly from my teen years, and I still have a very soft spot for his designs.

Here we have moved from color to metallics.  It’s always fun to see a Paco Rabanne creation (left, 1966), though I’m also reminded of what Audrey Hepburn said about the Rabanne dress she wore in Two for the Road. She referred to is as the most uncomfortable thing she’d ever worn, and that it was impossible to sit in it.

On the right is a late 1960s dress by Norman Norell. Even though this dress was ready-to-wear, the beads and sequins were each sewn on by hand, taking about 250 hours to bead one dress.

I felt like this Geoffrey Beene dress from 1994 was the star of the metallics section. It’s hard to compete with a dress named “Mercury” that truly lives up to its name. I hope future generations remember the Beene name.

I say that because so many in the tour I was in had never heard of the designer of this gown, Anne Fogarty. Now I don’t really put Fogarty in the same category as Beene, but she did play a big role in keeping the big skirt with crinoline look alive throughout the 1950s.

I wanted you to see just how lovely that metallic lace is.

At this point I felt like the whole structure of the exhibition of design elements, sort of fell apart. This was a mini-section of black and white, and while I was puzzled at its inclusion, I was also delighted by it. How can one not love a classic Chanel suit sandwiched between a skeleton ensemble of 2011 by Bernhard Willhelm and a 2018 coat (yes, this is one piece) by Rei Kawakubo. The unexpectedness of this display made it all the more relevant.

And then there were hats! This Bes-Ben hat, circa 1965, was the subject of much subject speculation. I’m pretty sure it is a rooster, but others saw more exotic birds.

By Stephen Jones, this hat was based on the London Tube (subway) map. 2008

Here we were treated to the mistress of draping, Madame Gres. This dress, circa 1981, is truly about the back, but I would have really loved a peek at the front as well.

 

And like any good fashion show, this one ended with wedding dresses. This circa 1959 gown was designed by Pierre Balmain.

Every fashionable bride in 1968 should have worn a dress like this one from American designer Gustave Tassell. Unfortuanately that was not, if my own recollections of late 60s wedding can be trusted, the case.

And finally, because this is Philadelphia, we have some of the wedding ensemble of Grace Kelly, who married in 1956. On the left is her copy of – not the Bible, as I expected – but of  Bride’s Manuel: A Manuel of Catholic Devotion with Mass for the Marriage Ceremony and the Nuptial Blessing. 

The cap which anchored her veil was designed by Helen Rose and was made by the costume department at MGM. The shoes were from David Evins. Princess Grace donated these items to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, along with her dress, which is, according to the docent, too fragile to mount and display. That’s a pity because many of the visitors were looking for the dress.

And there you have it. If you are going to be in the Philadelphia area anytime this fall or winter, treat yourself to an afternoon of Fabulous Fashion.

 

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Fabulous Fashion at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Over the past twenty years I’ve seen dozens of fashion exhibitions. Each one is different, and with each one I always learn something. I was really happy when I learned that Fabulous Fashion:  From Dior’s New Look to Now was opening on our last day in Philadelphia, and that I’d get to finally get to see some of the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s fabulous fashion collection.

Fashion exhibitions have changed quite a bit over the past twenty years. It’s just not reasonable for a museum to throw together a bunch of pretty dresses and call it a show. There has to be a theme. In Fabulous Fashion, the Philadelphia Museum of Art has tried to do both, and has succeeded somewhat in this mission.

Simply stated, this is a show showing the highlights of the museum’s holdings from 1947 through the present day. It’s not based on chronology, but on design themes like shape and color. Thrown into the mix were cases of accessories, which may or may not have added to the themes. The exhibition ended with a bit of bridal fashion.

The most  interesting part of the show – to me at least – was how so many of the objects were connected to the city of Philadelphia, with either the designer or the original wearer being from the city. In this day of super-block-busting Met extravaganzas, I appreciate it when a museum can rely on its own collection to mount an exhibition of this size. I felt like this was both a fashion experience and a Philadelphia experience.

When did museums start thinking that putting fashion on huge spaces and above eye level was a good idea? As a person who is always concerned with the details, I hate this method of display. Yes, I know a big wall of stunning clothes makes a big impact, but to me having the objects so inaccessible makes it hard to appreciate the fabrics and the techniques the makers used.

Please, museum display people, let this trend die.

Even though he got billing in the exhibition title, there is only one (that I noticed, anyway) Dior garment in the show. It’s a real beauty, though, and so typical of what Dior was doing in 1948. What looks like stripes in the skirt is actually little rows of top-stitching. This is why I love being able to get close to the clothes. That detail would have been lost if it were mounted on that big wall.

Who else but Balenciaga? This 1951 dress perfectly embodies the theme of shape and volume. This was a gift from John Wanamaker, the best known Philadelphia department store. It had been purchased for a special fashion show at the store.

Ralph Rucci, 2001. I didn’t realize that Rucci is from Philadelphia. This is an astounding dress, with its stingray-like structure.

Here’s a lovely creation by Jean Dessès from 1958 or 59. This one has an interesting donor, Mrs. Claus Von Bulow.

After seeing the Pierre Cardin exhibition at SCADFASH, I always give his work a second look. I loved this dress with those trademark circular ruffles. 1983

That dress with the puffed sleeves on the left is an Adrian. There was no way to photograph this one so you could see the lushness of the fabric.

There’s that Adrian again, in the background where it does not belong.

The dress in front is Smoke, by Roberto Capucci. He did a matching dress in red that he named Fire. 1985

One of my favorites, and a true treasure is this hand-painted gown by Philadelphia native Tina Leser. Leser began her career making hand-painted textiles, and her blouses come up for sale fairly often. I’d never before seen a dress in this technique though.

And what could be better than having Leser’s original sketch? She donated both the dress and the sketch to the museum.

Sea Fan Fantasy, 1947

Next up was a case of footwear. This pair was made by Philadelphia shoe company Newton Elkin, in 1947. After wartime dye restrictions, women must have gone crazy over such colorful shoes!

Vivienne Westwood, circa 1993. The docent leading the tour said that the original owner never wore these, as she bought them as a work of art and displayed them as such.

So simple, but SO influential, these 1966 boots by Andre Courrèges were copied far and wide.

The next theme is embellishment. Those of you who know me and how I dress know that I’m not big on highly-embellished clothes, but I can appreciate an embroidered frock with the best of you. Like the one above.

This circa 1961 dress was designed by Italian designer Emilio Schuberth, of whom I’d never heard. But what a dress!

So much embellishment! Left to right: Giambattista Valli for Ungaro, 2004; Geoffrey Beene, 1968; Emanuel Ungaro, 1989. Yes, the Beene is a dress. He had recently declared that ballgowns were passé, and so this little thing is an evening dress.

On the left, Oscar de la Renta, 1999. On the right, James Galanos, 1957.

I was surprised to learn that Galanos was born in Philly, as he is so associated with California. For those of you who will be in the Philadelphia area, don’t miss the Galanos show at Drexel University, which holds his archive. I missed this one by only a few days.

There is no way for me to show with my simple camera and middling photography skills just how wonderful this textile is. It’s completely hand sequined and beaded on a layer of sheer silk.  And this was ready-to-wear!

I’ll continue my tour later this week.

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The Fashions of Fiction at Shippensburg University, Part 2

Today I finish up my review of The Fashion of Fiction, starting with one of my favorites, Cranford, by Elizabeth Gaskell.

If you aren’t familiar with Cranford, a word of warning – there is no real plot. The chapters are like stories all based around the primarily female inhabitants of the village of Cranford. It’s a terribly old-fashioned place, struggling to come to grips with the modern age.

On the left is a circa 1837-1841 cotton print gown with matching capelet. On the right is a circa 1820s wrapper, or a robe we would call it today. The cap (circa 1830s) was an important accessory for the ladies of Cranford. A new gown might be too costly to consider, but a new cap was attainable for even the poorest resident.

Accessories were often made at home, especially if the object could be knit or crocheted.  This selection of nineteenth century accessories could have been made by any accomplished needleworker.

It was said that the last gigot sleeve (fashionable in the early 1930s)  was seen in Cranford. It were this dress, I can see why the wearer was reluctant to give it up. Under the big sleeves are sleeve plumpers, which were usually attached to a woman’s corset, and which were necessary to maintain the puffiness of the gigot. The bonnet is an early nineteenth century calash, which folded like the cover of a calash carriage.

And look at her feet.

Over her silk slippers, our model is wearing pattens, which elevated the wearer’s feet out of the dirt and mud of the streets.

I read Madame Bovary my freshman year in college, and I’ll admit I was much too young (or, perhaps, immature) to understand Emma Bovary. I haven’t been able to convince myself to revisit it, though someday maybe I will.

On the right is a wedding gown of the type Emma would have worn on her wedding day in the early 1840s. The dress actually belonged to Mary Winchester Cunningham, who married in 1843. The veil was worn by bride Sophia Raburg Hall, a few years earlier.

I was happy to see two riding habits on display. This one dates a bit later than the dating of the book, the 1860s. I love how they has all the accouterments – the boots, the hat, and especially, the gauntlets.

Not to give the plot away or anything, but Emma Bovary spent a good deal of her time in her luxurious wrappers, entertaining her lover.

Probably the best represented of the novels presented was Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence.  The book was written in 1920, but takes place in New York in the 1870s.

The brown dress above represents one of the minor characters, Janey Archer, the spinster sister of the male protagonist, Newland Archer. Age of Innocence has three young women characters, all of whom represent the limitations placed on them by the rules of society. Janey’s unmarried and unhappy state is reflected in her somber color choices, and her increasingly ill-fitting  dresses.

Newland Archer was betrothed to the perfect society bride, May Welland. May often wore white, a symbol of her cool nature. This stunning gown was the circa 1880 wedding dress of  Amy D’Arcy Wilson. Her marriage was a failure, but the dress, a smashing success.

 

The third young woman in the novel, is “the other woman”, May’s cousin Ellen. Even before they marry, Newland falls for the red-wearing and exciting Ellen, who is, inconveniently, already married.

This stunning embroidered dress dates to around 1880, and was worn by Maria Duvall Stockett.

And finally, here are fashions that represent The Great Gatsby, written by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and taking place in the summer of 1922. Hollywood has usually set the story a bit later, and so we’ve come to expect knee-length “flapper” dresses, but what the Fashion Archives and Museum gave us is much closer to the true setting. The summer dresses worn by Daisy, Jordan, and toddler Pammy would have been similar to what is shown here, though the one with blue might be a tad old-fashioned.

If you know the story, you know the significance of the man’s bathing suit. If you don’t know this, then do yourself a favor and read the book.

There was a nice assortment of evening gowns, again in the style of the early 1920s. I only wish they had Jordan Baker’s golfing ensemble!

I can’t say enough about how well put together this exhibition is. The staff and students involved are to be congratulated on an outstanding job. See it before it closes in April, 2019.

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The Fashions of Fiction at Shippensburg University

One of the highlights of my recent trip was The Fashions of Fiction from Pamela to Gatsby at the Fashion Archives and Museum at Shippensburg University. I’d never been to Shippensburg, but I know of their collection due to an exhibition I attended at the DAR Museum in Washington, DC, a few years. In that show, some of my favorite garments had been loaned from Shippensburg, and I’ve been wanting to visit ever since.

I got my chance when the Costume Society of America Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions planned a symposium at Shippensburg. I’ll be posting more about the symposium, but today is all about FA&M.  As you can see above, the curator, Karin Bohleke, chose seven works of fiction, and then illustrated the characters through the use of the types of clothing they would have worn. This is not a new concept, as it especially pertains to Jane Austin, but the choice and range of the novels was interesting in that it also presented a sort of fashion timeline, with a few gaps.

It was also interesting because not all the characters were rich, and not all were white. I liked that there was a mix of female and male authors. There was not only women’s clothing, but also that of men  and children. It really helped that I had read five of the seven works, and I’ll go ahead and suggest that any of you who might be visiting Shippensburg before this exhibition closes in April, should have read all seven novels.

I had not read Pamela, but there was a short synopsis of each novel, and notes concerning how garments were important to the story.  Pamela had been a lady’s maid, but she inherited finer things when her mistress died. The blue silk gown dates to circa 1750, but was later refashioned. The petticoat was made by Mary Marsh Leggett, and dates a bit later.

Detail of gown and petticoat

Accessories play a big role in Pamela, with pockets standing as a symbol for  concealment. This lovely pocket is wool on linen, circa 1750. The shoes were worn by Hannah Breck for her 1737 wedding in Massachusetts.

This is a housewife from the early nineteenth century. Every lady’s maid would have carried one in her pocket.

Men’s clothes were also important to the story. Pamela finally shows her love for her mistress’s son by sewing a waistcoat for him, this after he tried to impress her with a fancy gold lace waistcoat. This silk with gold embroidery coat was stunning.

Ourika was a young Senegalese woman who had been taken to France and who was educated by a rich family. All’s well until she realizes that as a black woman she has few prospects in the marriage market, regardless of her accomplishments.

The brown gown dates a bit later than the white, circa 1795. It shows the coming fashion associated with the last years of the eighteenth century, and the first ones of the nineteenth.

You can barely see the shoes associated with both dresses, but they too are antique. I hate exhibitions where the accessories are so in one’s face that they overshadow the clothes, but this was an instance where I wished for a little more shoe.

Ourika’s gown is made from silk woven in the famous Spitalfields of London, circa 1770. Can cloth this fine even be woven these days?

I’m guessing there are few among us who have not read Jane Eyre. My big confession is that I really did not care much for the book; even after three readings I’ve not been able to warm to Jane and her Mr. Rochester. But no matter, as the clothes make up for the story.

Left to right:

The white wonderfully embroidered dress (circa 1815) represents the haughty Blanche.  I really wish you could see the purple checked shoes she is wearing.

Mrs. Dent is wearing a black cotton and net gown, in keeping with her more conservative character. Circa 1818. Her embroidered shawl is circa 1805.

Mr. Rochester makes his appearance in his paisley banyan, or dressing gown.

And then there is Jane:

My best dress (the silver-gray one) was soon put on: my sole ornament, the pearl brooch soon assumed. I perceived my sandal was loose; I stopped to tie it, kneeling down for that purpose. I heard the dining-room door unclose; rising hastily I stood face to face with him: it was Mr. Rochester.

Having these snippets of text from the works represented added so much meaning to this exhibition. Note how Jane’s shoe ties are loose.

One of my favorite dresses in the exhibition was this one – a circa 1800 embroidered silk evening gown. How about that purple!  The turban and sleeves are reproduction, but add much to the way the dress is presented.

I’ll finish this tour in my next post, but I have a few words to say about cooperation. Even though the Fashion Archive and Museum has a very large collection, sometimes one needs a bit of help to fill in the gaps. I mentioned earlier that I first saw some of the Shippensburg collection at the DAR Museum. They in turn, have some objects represented in this show, as does the Chester County Historical Society, collector Mary Doering, and the Maryland Historical Society. I think it is great the smaller collections can work together like this so visitors can have such a delightful experience.

Next time, more stories.

 

 

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