Snaps, and hooks and eyes, and more snaps

1998.78.7.FrontAs 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.

Joanne Arnett
Curatorial Assistant

A Peek inside a Charles James gown

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.

Sara Hume, Curator

Custom Mounts for World War I Exhibition

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.

Sara Hume, Curator

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

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.

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

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.


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

A Peek Inside an 1880 Bodice

While considering this ensemble from 1880 for inclusion in our Fashion Timeline exhibition we were impressed by the exquisite workmanship inside the bodice. The finishing on the interior is exceptional.

This bodice (KSUM 1995.49.1a) is just as beautiful inside as out.

The interior also reveals the woman’s secrets as it is generously padded around the chest. While dress shields from this period are usually soiled and unsightly, these are nearly pristine and are carefully attached.

The underarms are carefully shielded to protect from perspiration, but this bodice also has discrete padding in the chest.
The underarms are carefully shielded to protect from perspiration, but this bodice also has discrete padding in the chest.

The label in the bodice indicates that it was made by Mrs. E. Donigan of New York. This is not a dressmaker that I was familiar with but her skills are evident in her work.

The label indicates this dress was made by Mrs. E. Donigan of New York

Unfortunately while the bodice is in excellent condition, the skirt seemed to be missing a layer. Skirts from this period would have abundantly draped sections; however, this skirt seemed to lack its overskirt. We decided not to include this ensemble in the exhibition, but we still wanted to share the exceptional craftsmanship of the bodice.

Postscript: In response to a request for photos of the outside of the bodice, I did a little digging and discovered we have a photograph of the whole ensemble dressed. For some reason the photograph had never been entered into our catalogue and I hadn’t thought to look through our other files.

Here is the complete outfit showing the outside of the bodice and the incomplete skirt.
Here is the complete outfit showing the outside of the bodice and the incomplete skirt.

You can judge for yourself whether you think the skirt is missing something.

Sara Hume, Curator