Every historical epoch has its peculiarities making it different from the others. Among the variety of objects singling out one period in the humans’ existence from another, clothes occupy a special place. Garments can say a lot about their owners and the period in which they lived. When one is observing a dress exhibition, the fantasy may bring him/her to different places and into various circumstances. When an exhibit is arranged at a high level, the visitors can imagine the atmosphere in which the garments were worn: feel the drive of the concerts, hear the whispers in the ballrooms, and sense the sacred atmosphere of the ceremonies. Fashion exhibitions find their place in museums and attract large numbers of visitors who want to get a close look at the beauty of the designers’ creations (Brooke).
The paper will review two dress exhibitions: “The First Ladies” at the Smithsonian Museum of American History and “Fashioning a Collection: 50 Years, 50 Objects” at the State Historical Society Museum. The purpose of the first one is to show the demonstration worn by the US’s most famous ladies (“The First Ladies”). Through the prism of their outfits, one can get an impression of the fashion trends in different centuries. The first ladies did not always “follow trends,” but they were the symbols of their husbands’ rule, and people were always interested in their outlook (“The First Ladies”). The second exhibit is aimed at commemorating a half-century anniversary of Missouri Historic Costume and Textile Collection (“Fashioning a Collection”). It displays the most exquisite garments from the Museum’s archives and suggests an insight into how people used to dress for ceremonies, formal occasions, and casual meetings.
The environment at both exhibits is inspirational and alluring. Although “Fashioning a Collection: 50 Years, 50 Objects” is real-life and “The First Ladies” is digital, both displays enchant with their choice of artifacts. Dresses and accessories are exquisitely arranged to bring about the feeling of physical presence no matter whether one is visiting an actual display or is having a virtual tour. Of course, “Fashioning a Collection” suggests a larger scope of feelings as it is possible to see the dresses in reality and not only in the photos. The navigation process is also different in the two displays, but in both cases, it is possible to get a feeling of actually visiting a museum. In the case of “fashioning a Collection,” this feeling is real, whereas the arrangement of “The First Ladies” produces an impression close to genuine.
The didactics of the exhibits are thoroughly constructed to support the description of physical objects (dresses, shoes, accessories). The curators not only characterize the dresses but pay attention to discussing various historical periods to which the garments belong. Such an approach helps to understand the implications of the displayed items better and to feel the atmosphere of the occasions to which they were worn.
Many items on the exhibits are so exquisite that it is impossible to take eyes off them. At “The First Ladies,” the most captivating dress is the one worn by Michelle Obama for Inauguration (“The First Ladies”). There is such a detailed description of each element of the outfit that one can practically feel the fabric and see the dazzle of the diamond ring worn by the first lady.
At “Fashioning a Collection: 50 Years, 50 Objects,” the brightest outfit is number 19-20 – “Embroidered and Patched Denim Shirt and Jeans” (“Fashioning a Collection”). This costume leaves no one’s attention behind: it is rich in colorful embroidery and bright patches representing the most popular fads of the 1960s-1970s. The item suggests a feeling of freedom, energy, and peace, and is a vivid “personal and fashion statement” of the time (“Fashioning a Collection”).
The design of the text accompanying the exhibitions (the didactics) in both cases is very appropriate and comfortable. Being a virtual display, “The First Ladies” has more space for the description of its items. However, “Fashioning a Collection” also presents a clear and detailed explanation of each garment. Both exhibitions’ didactics not only incorporate the full explanation of the clothes’ material and trend implications but also provide an exhaustive description of the historical period to which they belong. Furthermore, the text inspires me to make further research on some events and designers, as well as customs and traditions. Therefore, the curators did a great job designing the didactics and choosing what information to include in them.
Whether it is for education or entertainment or both, the exhibitions leave the visitors with the feeling of great pleasure and elation. They inspire and encourage further research on the garment, the people who used to wear them, and the historical periods to which they belonged. “Fashioning a Collection: 50 Years, 50 Objects” has an advantage over “The First Ladies” as it is a real exhibit where one can get a better sense of each item on display. However, both exhibitions are a fantastic way of getting acquainted with history and fashion and provide a great aesthetic impact.
Brooke, Simon. “The Art of Fashion Exhibitions.” Sotheby’s, 2017. Web.
“Fashioning a Collection: 50 Years, 50 Objects.” The State Historical Society Museum, 2017, Web.
“The First Ladies.” The Smithsonian Museum of American History, n. d., Web.