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!
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.
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.
We are currently working on dressing pieces that will be included in our upcoming exhibition: “The Great War: Women and Fashion in a World at War.” Fashions from the period covered, 1912 and 1922, are particularly challenging to dress. First, many of the pieces have condition issues owing to the preference for very sheer, fragile fabrics. Second, the silhouette does not suit any of the mannequins that we have. Our Kyotos, which we use for 19th century pieces, are too buxom and have shoulders that slope too much, while our more contemporary mannequins are too broad shouldered and have inappropriate hip thrusts. Normally we might just use dress forms but many of the pieces have sheer fabrics around the neck and sleeves that require mounts that have arms. Our budget does not allow us to purchase mannequins that would be suitable for these pieces so we decided to make custom mounts out of fosshape and foam.
Jim Williams, our exhibition designer/preparator, and I adapted an existing dress form into a shape that would be small enough to fit the smallest pieces in the exhibition. Jim used this piece as a mold to shape fosshape forms onto. (We also used fosshape as bases for wigs which we covered in an earlier post) He then positioned magnets in the forms and into foam arms so that the arms could attach to the form.
I padded the fosshape form so that it would fit this beautiful silk and lace dress from 1915-17, then covered the padding with a layer of stockinette to hold everything in place. I sewed together white jersey to cover the neck and shoulders of the form. I also made matching covers for the foam arms, leaving openings for the magnets so that the form and arms could hold together.
When the dress is on exhibition, the mount should not attract any attention to itself. Hopefully our visitors will just be able to admire the beautiful lace dress.
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 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
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.
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.
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).
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