Tag Archives: Fashion History Museum

Everyday Clothing

It seems as if “everyday clothing” is having a moment. Several weeks ago I posted a link to the New York Times article about the collection of everyday clothes at Smith College. Then last week there was a conference in the UK on the topic of everyday clothes. And the latest episode of the fashion podcast Bande  à Part  is also about everyday clothes.

One of the first questions that Rebecca and Beatrice of Bande  à Part  discuss is, just what is everyday clothing. It might be pretty obvious to some, but think of the population as a whole; one person’s everyday is another’s special occasion. For discussion here, I’d suggest that everyday clothing means the clothes the 99% of us wear everyday. It does not include couture garments and ballgowns. For the most part, it does not include the avant garde.

In  short, everyday clothes are the things that one does not expect to see in a fashion exhibition at the Met, or any museum that is dedicated to the idea that fashion is art. On the other hand, you would expect to see everyday dress in a history museum. And many museums, such as dedicated fashion museums, will often have both couture and more commonly worn garments in their collections.

Personally, I prefer the historical and cultural (as opposed to artistic) approach. Not to say that I don’t appreciate a stunning Dior gown, because I do. It’s enlightening for an everyday clothing collector like me to occasionally see the work of an artist like Dior. The truth is there are plenty of topics about everyday dress that need to be explored, but do we really need another book on Coco Chanel?

I still find the study of what women wore – and why they wore it – to be the most fascinating part of fashion history.  The choice of a couture ballgown is based on what one’s favorite designer has to offer combined with trying to stand out from the other couture-clad ball goers. But in 1922 the decision to wear a pair of knickerbockers to a fall picnic could be full of gender-bending anxiety.

I can vividly remember the first day I dared to wear jeans to school. It had been stressed to us in the sixties and seventies that young ladies wore dresses and skirts, and so it was hard to ignore the disapproving voices in my head. How much stronger must that message have been to girls in the early 1920s!

It doesn’t get much more “everyday” than the school girl’s middy. My matching set is linen and was worn by a college girl. But even families with few resources could buy cheap cotton middies or make them at home.

This knit sports dress was made by a moderately priced knitwear maker, Sacony.  The silk blouse was most likely made at home, and the California Sports Hat was sold through the Montgomery Ward catalog. Even though this ensemble is far from couture, it is still important as it shows a step in the increasingly casual way people were dressing in the 1920s.

Bathing suits were becoming a necessity, and they were available at many price points, from less than a dollar to more than twenty dollars. A woman needed a cover-up. but that could be borrowed from her own boudoir.

These two garments were probably beyond the budget of many 1920s women, but this would have been everyday wear for a woman who had a bit more to spend on her clothes.

And here is an example of a more aspirational garment. This is from French fashion house Babani, and would have been priced at a level that most American women could only dreamof.

I think it is great that historians are giving everyday clothing a closer look. What people wore is important in understanding the times in which they lived. It’s interesting to think of clothes as artifacts, and not just what one wore each day.

 

 

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Filed under 1920s fashion, Collecting, Museums, Viewpoint, Vintage Clothing

Paul Poiret Coat, Circa 1912

Several months ago I posted that the Fashion History Museum was raising funds to acquire an evening coat by Paul Poiret. Thanks to all who helped with the fundraising (and that included around $600 donated by The Vintage Traveler readers) the coat was added to the museum’s collection, and is now on display in their latest exhibition, Made in France.

I was lucky to be able to see and examine the coat as, believe it or not, this coat was found here in North Carolina!

The story begins last spring, when Jonathan and Kenn from the museum traveled south from Ontario to deliver their Lucile dress to a small exhibition at a local Titanic attraction. They then spent the afternoon with me, viewing my collection and talking fashion history. They mentioned that they had an appointment in Asheville to see a Poiret coat, which really floored me.

As it turned out, the coat was in the possession of Melinda and Jeff of Style and Salvage Vintage, whose business is located here in my little town of Clyde. I didn’t know them at the time, but Jonathan put us in touch, and I eagerly took up their invitation to go to their business and see the coat.

It is a simply stunning garment, beautiful in photographs that don’t fully show just how great an object it is. The gold bits are metallic lace, that wonderful substance that was so prized in the 1910s and 1920s. The exterior of the coat is gold silk, and the interior, which shows through the lace, is the most luscious shade of green.

So how did such a rare object come to be in Western North Carolina. I won’t give the details, but Melinda and Jeff were at a sale that advertised old clothes and costumes. Not known for being shy, Jeff asked the seller if there were other garments not currently in the sale. The answer was yes, there were more, and so arrangements were made to view the rest of the clothing.

While going through the racks, Melinda spotted the gold lace, held her breath, and pulled the coat out. She already knew it was special, but I would have loved to have seen her face at the moment she spotted that label!

The seller, who was working on behalf of an organization that actually owned the clothes, agreed to let Melinda and Jeff take the coat on consignment. They then set about searching for the perfect buyer for the coat.

That led them to contact Jonathan and Kenn,who after seeing the coat, put it on hold and began fund-raising. This February they again traveled south, and this time returned home with this very special garment. After a bit of restoration, the coat can now be enjoyed all all who are lucky enough to visit the Fashion History Museum this spring and summer.

It just goes to show that there are still marvelous things still hiding in attics and warehouses and who-knows-where else. My thanks to Melinda and Jeff for sharing this story, and for letting me use their photos.

 

 

 

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Filed under Designers, Museums, Vintage Clothing

A Visit from the Fashion History Museum Guys

The best thing about the internet is that I’ve met some very awesome people because of connections made online. I can now add Kenn Norman and Jonathan Walford to that list of awesome friends. I’ve been communicating with these guys so long that it was like having old friends roll up last week when I met them on their trip down to install a Lucile dress at the Titanic attraction in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. I’m so glad they decided to swing through Western North Carolina so I could finally meet them.

Jonathan was nice enough to write about my collection on his blog, so I’ll let him tell the story.

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The Fashion History Museum

I’m happy to announce that the world now has a new museum devoted entirely to fashion, the Fashion History Museum.  Located in Galt, Ontario, Canada, it is the work of fashion historian Jonathan Walford and his partner Kenn Norman.  Jonathan is the curator of the collection, and Kenn is the museum director.  The Fashion History Museum was actually incorporated in 2004, but they have now opened in a permanent location in  Southworks, a restored historic industrial complex of 19th century limestone factory buildings.

You probably know Jonathan through his books, but he also has experience in the museum world, as he was the founding curator of the Bata Shoe Museum.  I’ve “known” him since the early days of eBay, where vintage sellers and buyers found a place to chat.  And I’ve always been in awe of his knowledge – and his vast collection.  Now it will be on view for all to appreciate.

There are plans to have rotating exhibitions throughout the three galleries that make up the museum.  Now, in gallery one is Paisley and Plaid – A Recurring Fashion.   It features clothing  ranging from 1810 through the 1990s that are printed, embroidered or woven with paisley and tartans.  Gallery two hosts Collecting Fashion for the Future: Acquisitions from the New Millenium.  Here are garments from designers such as  Jason Wu, Alexander McQueen, and Vivienne Tam.  The third gallery is devoted to accessories.  Currently showing is It’s in the Bag, an anthology of purse styles and materials.

Enjoy these highlight from the current exhibitions, and if you are in or near southern Ontario, you must put the Fashion History Museum on your list of things to see.

In the top photo: Four early dresses from gallery one Paisley and Plaid featuring (right to left) an English paisley print wool dress, c. 1848, American cotton print flounced dress, c. 1854, American blue and brown tartan silk dress, c. 1864, and an American printed wool and purple velvet dress, c. 1886

Printed wool dress by Oleg Cassini, c. 1954, and cotton tartan dress with corset hook closure by Clair McCardell, c. late 1940s – early 1950s

Right to left: View of red and black printed paisley design wool dress by Oleg Cassini, c. 1954, paisley printed silk two piece dress with culotte skirt by Norman Norell 1960, blue and red printed cotton dress and matching kerchief by Lulu, Montreal, c. 1968, and embroidered and mirror applique printed cotton caftan made in India for export, c. 1968

View of gallery two from Fashion for the Future, an exhibition of garments acquired by the museum to represent fashion since 2000. Dresses shown (left to right) include Andrew Matejny, Marchesa, Jessica Biffi, Liefsdottir, and Love-J, as well as selection of shoes by Jean Paul Gaultier, Donna Karan, Naughty Monkey, and others, under the watchful eye of vintage and antique dress forms

Another view of Fashion for the Future including dresses by (left to right)  Desigual, Steven Sprouse for Target, Roots, Takashi, and Vivienne Tam, and fascinator hats by Jacques Vert and David Dunkley

One view of Purse Anthology room featuring different styles of purses (reticules, backpacks, handbags, pocketbools) made from different materials (sea turtle, lucite, felt, etc.) by different designers (Gucci, Lucille de Paris, Willi Smith:Williwear)

To see more photos, and to read about how the museum came together, visit Jonathan’s blog.  The Fashion History Museum also has a website.

All photos and photo captions are courtesy of and copyright of the Fashion History Museum.

 

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