As I described in an earlier blog post, we are undergoing a project to inventory our entire collection of dresses from the 1920s. Many themes pop out at us as we are going through the drawers. In fact, the drawers themselves seem to be organized by color. In the first few drawers we have found a number of wedding dresses as well as dresses that could provide inspiration for today’s brides. A couple of the dresses have the full-skirted style known as the “robe de style” although most are the more typical cylindrical silhouette, so closely identified with the decade. There is also an almost complete lack of lace although there is plenty of silk satin and beading. We hope you enjoy the photo gallery!
The Kent State University Museum collection includes over 400 dresses from the 1920s. These dresses include some marvelous examples of embroidery, beadwork and fringe. In order to showcase the depth of this collection, we are planning an exhibition of fashions from the decade, scheduled to open this September. As the curator of this exhibition, I realized that there are some shortcomings to our existing cataloguing of these pieces.
Although the KSU Museum has a vast collection (over 30,000 pieces in total) our staff includes only 6 full time employees, supplemented by the invaluable help of student workers and volunteers. Over the years, the record keeping in the museum has been inconsistent. The 1920s collection pose particular challenges. The delicacy of the silk chiffons coupled with the weight of the beading often results in serious condition problems. The general practice is to store such dresses lying down in drawers rather than hanging in closets. Because of space limitations we have to stack the dresses in the drawers. It is very difficult to know what the dresses in the drawers look like and very few of the dresses from this period have been photographed. In order to choose pieces for the exhibition, I would wind up rifling through the drawers anyway, so I have decided to systematically go through all of the dresses in the drawers, photograph them, and make sure they are correctly identified in the database.
I am working with my student intern, Leann Schneider to tackle this project. It is our hope to post ongoing updates from our project on this blog. The drawers hold wonderful treasures from the period as well as all sorts of surprises. We have made it through one drawer so far and these pictures showcase a few of the finds. Already we have corrected a number of errors in the records including mismatched photographs and pieces that are incorrectly dated as being in the 20s but actually belong to other decades. Three of the best pieces from the drawer are all by coincidence pale green silk chiffon and are included in the gallery below.
At the Kent State University Museum we have a permanent exhibition, “Fashion Timeline,” that surveys historic fashions from the 18th century through the mid-20th century. (Website). Because of the fragile nature of costumes, we cannot leave the same pieces in the exhibition indefinitely. We have to rotate the pieces regularly, so that means there are often new pieces on exhibition.
Whenever we add a new piece to the Timeline we photograph it. Ultimately our goals is to photograph all of the pieces in our collection. However, with over 30,000 pieces and only 6 full time staff members, we have our work cut out for us. Over the past couple of weeks we have been photographing our most recent additions to the exhibition. This blog post features images of one of the pieces we have just put on view. To see pictures of the dress being replaced, check out our earlier blog post.
This matching bodice and skirt dates to around 1765. The textile is a magnificent brocaded silk. The close-up photographs give a sense of the texture of the ribbed silk and the brocaded floral patterns. The stomacher with the peach bows is a reproduction, which the Museum Director Jean Druesedow created from silk which she carefully dyed to match and ribbons.
We have recently received a few inquiries about this beautiful dress and court train and while editing the photos, I decided to share them with the public in a blog post. This evening dress is of ivory moiré silk faille, which has been richly embroidered with gold and is paired with a detachable court train of green velvet also embroidered with gold. These pieces are English and date from 1810-1825. Although they have different accession numbers they were both donated to the museum by the founder, Shannon Rodgers and have been exhibited together several times.
Sara Hume, Curator/Assistant Professor
In an earlier post, I discussed the process of preparing a custom mount for our upcoming exhibition, “The Great War: Women and Fashion in a World at War.” I thought I would show a comparison between the pieces dressed on these custom mounts and how they appeared on our other mannequins. Among the pieces in this exhibition that have been displayed before are these two dresses from 1912.
The first is a beautiful dress of green silk chiffon and lace. This dress had been in an earlier exhibition about the Gazette du Bon Ton. when it had been mounted on one of our “Christy” mannequins. The long torso and the pelvic thrust of the mannequin make a significant difference in the silhouette of the dress. In fact, the dress would have originally been worn with a corset that extended to mid thigh (like this one) making this pose impossible. The “Christy” is also too tall for the dress so that rather than pooling on the floor the dress ends at the ankles.
A second dress from the exhibition that had previously been exhibited is the purple wool and velvet dress that was worn by the mother-of-the-bride to a wedding in 1912. In an earlier exhibition it was mounted on a “Kyoto” mannequin which was designed for 19th century dresses and works wonderfully for a number of our pieces (like this or this or this). However, at the turn-of-the-century, the shape of corsets changed significantly and created a different silhouette. Rather than pushing the bust upwards and creating fullness nearer the armpits, the corsets allowed the bustline to fall much lower as the chest was pushed forward and the hips backwards. The sideview of the dress on the two different mounts shows how the differences in body shape change the way the dress hangs.
Certainly there are positive aspects to the mannequins, namely the head which allows the complete ensemble to include hair and hats. However, achieving the proper silhouette provides a better sense of the way that the dress originally looked. Posture was as important to achieving the fashionable silhouette as the drape of the skirt and the placement of the waist.
As fashionable silhouettes change it sometimes takes a while for dressmaking techniques to adapt to the new styles. An example of this is this 1921 wedding dress. The elegant, draped exterior of the garment gives no hint of the complex dressing required.
It has the 1920’s youthful look, the bust and waist are de-emphasized and the arms and lower legs are exposed. But the construction of this dress is still is very similar to the way dresses were made in the mid-teens. A wide waist tape still anchors the dress in place and layers of fabric still wrap around the body. Below are step-by-step images of mounting the dress.
This week, the Metropolitan Museum of Art opened their latest exhibition, Charles James: Beyond Fashion. The Kent State University Museum has several Charles James dresses including a nearly identical dress to one in the Met’s exhibition. James first designed the dress in 1949 for Mrs. William S. Paley, but also made additional copies of the dress for a number of women including Mrs. William Randolph Hearst, Jr., Eleanor Lambert, Milicent Rodgers and Gloria Swanson. Eight women wore their copies of this gown to the finale of a March of Dimes benefit. The dress in the Kent State collection is the one worn by Sloan Simpson (wife of New York Mayor William O’Dwyer).
This dress was included in the 2007 exhibition here at the Kent State University Museum, entitled simply “Charles James.” In the context of that exhibition our March of Dimes dress was photographed inside and out. The interior pictures attest to the exquisite craftsmanship and architectural scaffolding that underpin a Charles James dress.