Last week I traveled to Atlanta to see the latest exhibitions at SCAD FASH. There were two – Embellished: Adornment through the Ages, and Threads of History: Two Hundred Years of Fashion. Embellished was all about accessories, while Threads was a timeline, starting with clothing from the late eighteenth century. I was very happy that SCAD FASH was mounting these two exhibitions on historical dress, as their previous shows have featured primarily modern clothes.
The great majority of the clothes on view are from the collection of Italian collector Raffaello Piraino, which means that most of the clothing is European in origin. I’ll have more to say about that later on.
The earliest works were men’s and women’s clothes from the 1770s. The man’s coat is called a habit à la française, and the woman’s dress is a robe à la française. I am going to be completely honest and say this is not my area of expertise, but I absolutely love the richly embroidered men’s coats and vests of the eighteenth century. It makes me wonder why men today settle for the blandness of their modern attire.
I saw this exhibition with my friend Liza, who is much more knowledgeable about pre-twentieth century fashion than I am. But we both thought that the woman’s dress looked a bit odd. The exhibitions notes did not say, but instead of a stomacher to fill in the bodice, they used that rust-colored fabric. The same color fabric was used for the petticoat, and it led us to think maybe they were reproductions.
Moving into the nineteenth century, we were presented with this lovely cotton muslin dress. But again, we thought it looked to be mounted in an unusual manner. From the back it looks like a lovely early Regency dress.
Can anyone help me figure this out? I’m pretty sure that those triangular pieces would have gone under the breasts.
These two garments seemed like they just stepped out of a Jane Austen novel. Both are early 1800s.
I really do love the fashion of the 1830s. It’s a period that tends to get overlooked, coming between the Regency and the larger crinolines to come in the 1850s and 60s. My photo does not do justice to these beauties.
Continuing along through time, we come to the age of the crinoline – the 1850s and 60s. There were some stunning examples on display, with this dress and interesting jacket being a favorite.
One thing that made this exhibition so interesting was the addition of custom made sets for the mid to late nineteenth century clothing. Designed and made by some of the faculty of SCAD, I thought they added a lot to the atmosphere of the clothing. This was almost like being in a mid-Victorian parlor.
I’m not sure how this photo turned out to be so light, as the exhibition itself was quite dark, at times, distractingly so. I know that light must be carefully managed when dealing with old textiles, but parts of the exhibition hall were so dark it was hard to make out the details. Add to that the lights coming through the floor, and it made viewing hard at times.
As I’ve said in the past, one of the strengths of how SCAD FASH manages exhibitions is the ability to arrange the clothing so that it can be viewed from more than one side. You could see these mid nineteenth century dresses from almost every angle.
The next set of dresses was placed in a Victorian cabinet of curiosities. With bustles galore, the setting evoked a steampunky mood of fashion meets science. I loved it, and suggest you go back to the top and enlarge the photo of this entire vignette.
I will repeat, I am a poor student of the high fashion of the Victorian era. Still, some of the bustles looked so large!
By the nineteenth century fashion magazines spread the latest throughout the Western world, but I am sure there must have been huge regional differences. All of these 1870s and 1880s dresses came from Palermo, Italy. Would a grouping from Cincinnati look much different?
The next grouping featured dresses from the 1880s and 1890s. You can see the famous “leg ‘o mutton” sleeve on the circa 1895 dress on the right. So handy for dating, that sleeve!
One of my favorite looks was the poorly photographed example that is seated. It was described as a tea dress, and it has a lot of the hallmarks of the Liberty of London historical dress crowd. And what would a showing of Victorian dress be without a paisley shawl?
The blue and white dress in the center back was a puzzler to me. From the exhibition brochure, “Sunday dress with a silk skirt, Prussian blue velvet bodice and a lace appliqued collar, 1880.” The skirt seems to be an odd shape for 1880.
This dress was dated 1885. You can still see the bustle, which is beautifully cut and pleated. And the lace was marvelous.
This dress was stunning in person. made of silk with hand embroidered bodice. The exhibition notes date it as 1915, but I’m thinking it is a bit earlier, maybe 1908 or so. Opinions?
In the foreground is one of two House of Worth dresses in the exhibition. Early twentieth century, with all the bells and whistles one would expect to see in a Belle Époque masterpiece. This dress is part of the SCAD FASH permanent collection. The white dress is from about the same time.
A stunning early twentieth century trio, starting with an evening wrap made from silver metallic tulle, embroidered and appliqued with satin. The middle is a Fortuny Delphos dress in the richest blue imaginable (drat that lighting!). It is in the SCAD collection.
I loved this late nineteen-teens black lace, beaded dress, especially because of the beaded girdle.
What a marvelous use of color!
There was a line of pretty 1920s frocks, but I found this one to be the most interesting with the matching shawl.
The 1930s were well represented as well, with sleek bias cut gowns. My favorite, though, was this rayon dress with the Letty Lynton inspired sleeves. In the background you can get a peek at a late 1940s suit, posed on a staircase, surrounded by her luggage.
And finally, another favorite was this incredible 1950s coat from Lanvin-Castillo. The color, the buttons, the sleeves!
Threads of History will be on display until March 19, 2017. Thanks to Liza for letting me use some of her photos. Next up, some accessories from Embellished.