Tag Archives: DAR

Exhibition Journal: Fashioning the New Woman, 1890 – 1925

Fashioning the New Woman was an exhibition at the DAR Museum in Washington, DC, held the summer of 2013.  From my journal you can see that the items that were of the greatest interest to me were sportswear.  Some of the items, like the gym suit and swimsuit, were fairly common, but others, like the circa 1895 sweater are very rare, even in collections.

Sketching on site is often difficult due to crowds and lack of seating, but the conditions at the DAR were ideal.  Not only was the crowd light, chairs were provided for people who wanted to sketch or to read the booklets that accompanied the exhibition.

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Fashioning the New Woman: 1890 – 1925, DAR Museum

When it comes to travel opportunities I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a bit of an opportunist.  Last week I found it necessary to pay a visit to my 93 year old uncle in West Virginia, and I realized I was just a few hours away from Washington, DC.  I had hopes of visiting the city later this summer as there were two exhibitions I really wanted to see.  Instead of waiting, I made a quick trip into the Capital for a day of museum hopping.

First on my list was the Museum at the Daughters of the American Revolution.  That might seem to be an odd place for a fashion exhibition, but the museum has a very nice collection of historic costume, much of it coming from member donations.  What really sold me on a visit was their online exhibition showing the highlights.

The focus of the exhibition was how the changing roles of women led to changes in fashion.  Just a glance at the introductory exhibit tells the story of how the highly styled gown of 1888 slowly changed into the sleek and streamlined 1925 evening dress of sequins and beads, a change made necessary by the more active lifestyles women were leading.

I’ve said it before, but I really do prefer a clothing exhibition that has an historic perspective, rather than one that tries too hard to convince me that fashion is art.  The combination of fashion and history and women’s social issues was to me, an irresistible combination.   The curator presented us with a timeline that showed the changes that took place over the course of the thirty-five years that the exhibition covered, and she included in the notes the things that were significant about each garment.  You could see the bustle disappear, the waistline change, and then disappear.

I also loved that this was not just dresses, but included accessories that included hats, shoes, stockings, bags, and jewelry.   It was interesting to see how the shape of shoes changed as they became visible as skirts rose from the floor.  And many of the dressed mannequins had appropriate hats and shoes to go with the dress.  Also included was a good selection of undergarments.

The day I visited I was there when the museum opened, and when I left, an hour and a half later, there had been only four other visitors to the museum.  Those of us who have been to the big “blockbuster” shows put on by the major museums can appreciate what a better experience this is than having to manage your way along a long line of other viewers, with the exhibits passing by like a moving show.  Here you could stand and contemplate, compare and revisit the entire show at will.  It is the very best kind of museum experience.

Another big plus is that most of the items were not behind glass, so you could get a good view.  And the museum has a very liberal photography policy, with made me happy.

And now for the tour…

The exhibition got off to a great start with this lovely creation by Charles Frederick Worth, 1888.  Think of it as the “before” photo.

And this silver creation would be the “after.”  There was no information on the maker, but it is a spectacular dress.

Click to enlarge

I thought this was a great idea – an assemblage of the typical things in an upper class lady’s wardrobe, circa 1900-1905.

A large case containing accessories had a great selection of stockings…

and gloves…

and handbags.

The notes pointed out that the game of golf had become so popular that it was often used to market items that may or may not have been used for the game.

I loved these socks, partly because I have a pair of gloves that have the same ruffled trim.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pair of 1920s anklets before.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

The timeline was quite informative.

One of the highlights was this lovely dress from the Paris couture House of Doucet.

I’m sorry this shot of the details is so poor, but I had to show it anyway.  What looks like a black inset is actually gold mesh, now tarnished.

Click to enlarge

If there was a weakness in the exhibition, it was that there were only two garments from the 1920s.  There seems to be something missing between the last two garments; a dress from 1922-23 would have filled the gap.

There was an exhibit on WWI uniforms…

and clothing worn by suffragettes.

During these years, more and more women were attending college, and here we see three facets of the college woman’s wardrobe:  classroom, gym, and graduation.

The gymsuit is circa 1905.

Woman were also participating in sports, and so specialized clothing was becoming necessary.

The skirt has a hidden pocket in the lining at shin level that holds golfballs.  And note the sweater vest that is so similar to the one pictured on the muffler box shown above.

This was identified as a golf cape – a popular item for golf and for the college campus.

This 1890s sports sweater was one of my favorite items in the exhibition.

The pair of canvas tennis boots are the earliest pair of Keds I’ve ever seen.

And finally, a nice riding habit and wool bathing suit.  I’m not so sure that it would have been a good idea to actually try to dive while wearing it though!

The DAR Museum is located on the corner of 17th Street and D Street.  It is open Monday through Saturday and there is also a fantastic history library and rooms decorated in historic styles.  Fashioning the New Woman will be open until August 31, 2013.

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