Beaded evening dress, mid 1920s, KSUM 1983.1.2488

Front or back

Now that we have been at our 1920s inventorying project for over a month, we have discovered a number of interesting trends and encountered unexpected problems. We have realized, for instance, that the most popular colors for dresses besides black and white were pale green and a pinky-orangey shade which an earlier museum employee frequently described as “shrimp” as in “evening dress of shrimp georgette.” (If our museum had a café I would push to offer a dish called shrimp georgette because it frankly sounds delicious.) We have also realized how difficult it is to distinguish the front from the back of 1920s dresses.

Determining which is the front of a dress is surprisingly common difficulty. In fact we have an earlier blog post involving this very problem. For 19th-century dresses, the problem is uncommon because of the close fit of the bodice with darts as well as the trains and bustles in the skirt. However, the problem creeps in during the 1910s and 20s as the fit loosens and the bust is de-emphasized. In general, dresses from the 1910s are so intricately fastened with snaps and hooks and eyes (and more snaps) that there is a clear front and back. On the other hand the very complexity of the dresses often makes it difficult to figure out what parts are going to end up where, until it is on the form. This very problem crept in with this remarkable dress by Lucile.

Lucile 2004.28.4 frontback
Silk taffeta and tulle evening dress, Lucile, ca. 1918, KSUM 2004.28.4.

After some confusion we positioned the waist stay so that it fastened in the front. The sash wraps around the bodice and fastens with hooks and eyes at the hip. The skirt is completely asymmetrical with layers of silver lace on one hip and a fold that makes it slant to one side. The dress is in fragile condition but in far better shape than any of our other pieces by the designer. After we photographed the dress, we discovered another dress by Lucile which had a very similar construction for the bodice. However, on the second dress, which was too fragile to mount on a dress form and photograph, the bodice unambiguously fastened in the back. After seeing this we concluded that the peach confection we had just photographed had been dressed backwards! Oops. The dress is so fragile we are loath to put it through the stress of being dressed again, but we really should correct our mistake. The picture here shows the dress on backwards, although I think the error is understandable.

As you get into the 1920s the problem becomes rampant. The cut of the dresses are so simplified that they become little more than 2 rectangles sewn together with openings for the neck and arms. The neck opening is generally either rounded or a V. Often the only difference between the front and the back is the depth of the neck opening. To make it more difficult to determine front and back, very few dresses have any tags or labels inside. We have a few tells we look for to help us figure things out: Where are the sweat stains in the underarms? Which side has the deeper neck opening? (although some dresses have deeper neckline at the back, so this one can be tricky) Is there shirring at the shoulders? (shirring is rows of gathering threads, which were generally done on the front of the dress), Is the skirt longer in the back? (the hemlines are often very irregular that it is not as simple as it seems).

Here are a few examples of some of our dresses seen from the front and the back. In an effort to maximize efficiency as we photograph all of the dresses from the 1920s, we usually only take pictures of the front. And as you can see from these examples, little information is gained by seeing the back. If anyone else knows how to figure these things out we would love to hear from you in the comments!

Detail of ribbonwork embroidery on green silk chiffon dress, KSUM 2000.39.36

Survey of the 1920s collection

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.

Beaded 1920s dresses
A couple of the dresses waiting to be photographed.

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.

Sara Hume, Curator/Associate Professor

Detail of back of bodice showing texture of brocaded silk.

Updating the Fashion Timeline exhibition

Silk brocade skirt and bodice, ca. 1765 on exhibition in
Silk brocade skirt and bodice, ca. 1765 on exhibition in “Fashion Timeline.”

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.

Sara Hume, Curator

Detail of gold embroidery on ca. 1815 evening dress, KSUM 1987.97.28. Collection of the Kent State University Museum.

Gold embroidery on a court dress and train

1983.1.2011 and 1986.97.28
Evening dress and court train with gold embroidery, ca. 1815. KSUM 1983.1.2011 and KSUM 1986.97.28. Collection of the Kent State University Museum.

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

The textile is laid out so the stripes fall down along the center of the Watteau folds.

A Closer Look at an 18th-Century Gown

This piece is currently on exhibit at the Kent State University Museum in the “Fashion Timeline,” which is an permanent installation featuring a survey of historical pieces from our collection covering 200 years from 1750 to 1950. The pieces are rotated out regularly and this robe à la française will remain on view through summer 2014. We just completed photography of several of the pieces from our latest rotation, and this dress photographed so beautifully (well, because it is so beautiful) that I felt it deserved a blog post of its own.

This robe à la française is on view in the exhibition, "Fashion Timeline."
This robe à la française is on view in the exhibition, “Fashion Timeline.” Robe à la française, German, ca. 1750s, KSUM 2002.35.7 ab.

This dress is made from a luxurious textile which has a striped ground with beautiful ombré blue stripes on the cream. There is then a pattern woven with a supplementary warp so that the figures are in twill weave while the ground weave is satin. The resulting textile has a subtle variation of color and texture. The peach or salmon color has faded over the years and is darker and brighter in the folds, but this does not diminish its beauty.

Obviously this gown was intended as a showcase for this stunning fabric, which cascades uninterrupted from neck to hem in the back. The fabric has been carefully laid out so that the stripes fall down along the center of the Watteau pleats. The fabric that has been pleated into the ruched trim, however, is arranged so that the stripes run horizontally. These decoratively pleated pieces are edged with braid that carefully coordinates with the fabric of the robe.

The robe is paired with a quilted petticoat of cream satin which was part of the same donation. The information from the donor of the dress suggests that the dress was German. One interesting aspect of the dress is the neckline. In the more usual cut of a robe à la française, the trim (or robings) run straight down the front of the opening at the bodice then down the skirt. You can see this construction in this yellow robe à la française.  However, the trim at the neckline on this piece curves around form a 90 degree angle from the neck to the front opening.

 

Sara Hume, Curator

Detail of the waistcoat open showing the functional velvet buttons.

A Closer Look at an 18th-Century Suit

This magnificent red silk velvet suit from the 1770s had been in our Fashion Timeline exhibition for the past several months but, we recently took it off exhibit. The textile is a remarkable textured velvet and it is  trimmed with silver embroidery and sequins.

1995.17.174a-c.Front
Man’s velvet suit, French, ca. 1778, KSUM 1995.17.174 a-c.

As I was undressing the mannequin I was amazed again at the particular way that 18th century men’s suits were constructed. I snapped a few quick pictures as I was working so I could share.

Sara Hume, Curator

The final appearance of the outfit was very lively and full
(KSUM 1995.17.575 a-e)

Researching and mounting a Czech folk costume

The Kent State University Museum includes a collection of European folk costumes, with a significant number of Czech, Slovak, and Romanian pieces. However, many of these pieces come with very little identifying information. For our most recent exhibition, Pretty Pleats, I wanted to include an example of the very fine pleating characteristic of Czech and Slovak skirts and sleeves. I identified a piece in our collection that had wonderful pleats, but I had little idea how the five pieces were worn. I also did not know anything beyond the identification “Czechoslovakia” written on the tag.

BlouseVestHangerSmSkirt and Apron

As I was researching how to arrange the skirt which actually seemed to be two aprons, I found this image through Pinterest, which looked similar to our ensemble because of the blue skirt covered with a red apron and the pleated sleeves. The identifying information on the pin indicated it was a woman’s costume from Moravske Slovacko.

Joža_Uprka_-_Staroměšťanka_od_Uherského_Hradiště

I had just the break in the case that I needed. I quickly discovered a photograph of folk costumes from a particular village in Moravske Slovacko (or Moravian Slovakia which is an area of the Czech Republic near Slovakia).

800px-Kroj_13_svobodní_detail

The distinctive orange pompoms strongly suggested that this was from the same village as our piece. I learned that the outfit was from the village of Uhersky Ostroh. Through the wonders of the internet and Google Translate, I discovered a website from an organization in the village that currently makes traditional costumes. 

This website was enormously helpful and includes photographs showing how the sleeves are pleated and the skirts are shaped into deep pleats. We followed the instructions or at least copied the process seen in the photos to prepare the costume for display.

The following slideshow shows the steps we took and the final results:

The complete outfit is currently on display in our exhibition, Pretty Pleats, which runs through March 16, 2014.

Sara Hume, Curator