Regular readers of this blog have probably noticed the variety of forms we use to display objects from the FIDM Museum collection. When we photograph an object for in-house documentary purposes, it's usually dressed on a headless dress form or mannequin. For exhibition and/or publication, we go all out, pairing garments with contemporaneous accessories (shoes, hat, jewelry, etc.) in an effort to present the garment as it might have been seen in its own era. The paper wigs worn by some of our mannequins are another aspect of this contextualization. More recently, we've used floating forms to display garments during exhibitions. The decision regarding which type of display to utilize is the result of a complicated equation involving time, resources, space, staff, garment condition and intended usage of the final image or dressed mannequin.
During the 1920s, nightlife was an important aspect of popular culture. In the United States, the Prohibition of alcohol led to the rise of speakeasies, where patrons could dine, dance and drink in an atmosphere of illicit pleasure. Glamorous evenings required eye-catching garb, such as the beaded velvet evening dress pictured here. As described in this post on the 1920s silhouette, the favored silhouette for both day and evening wear was slim and straight, uninterrupted by the curves of the body. Dresses were reduced to two simple panels of fabric, joined at the shoulders and side seams. For evening, these flat panels became canvases on which beading, sequins, embroidery and other embellishments created abstract or pictorial imagery.
As described in this recent post on our Sonia Rykiel tunic, women gradually adopted trousers as everyday dress in the 1970s. While the Sonia Rykiel tunic demonstrates a somewhat ambivalent acceptance of trousers, this tan wool pants suit from our Study Collection would have been worn by a woman entirely convinced that trousers were here to stay.
In the nineteenth-century, children were idealized as "perfect beings who were not only without sin, but who offered adults a model of unworldly goodness."1 As children grew towards emotional and physical maturation, they inevitably lost their innocence. To designate and preserve this special status as long as possible, gender distinctions in nineteenth-century infant and toddler dress were minimal. Infants of both sexes wore long, white dresses. As mobile toddlers, boys and girls wore loose-fitting, calf or ankle length dresses that borrowed details (neckline, sleeve, etc.) from adult dress. Both boys and girls wore their hair long, as seen in this c. 1900 cabinet card of a young boy sporting long, curly locks.
By the age of 5 or 6, gender distinctions in dress became more obvious. Girls continued to wear skirts and dresses, but boys were "breeched," meaning they began wearing short, bifurcated garments. Breeching was a milestone event, indicating that a boy had demonstrated increased maturity. The exact age at which a boy was breeched varied, depending on family beliefs and individual behavior. In the 1870s, boys who had been breeched wore knickerbockers, short trousers which fastened at the knee. If a boy was lucky enough to attend school, his knickerbockers were probably worn with a jacket and vest similar to those pictured here. Unfortunately, we don't have the accompanying knickerbockers, but they were probably made of a sturdy brown fabric, possibly corduroy. The complete ensemble would have also included a white shirt, wool socks, laced leather boots and a cap or hat.
The handling of homespun fabric in a sophisticated manner is the forte of Sybil Connolly.1
In 1953, Irish designer Sybil Connolly was "discovered" by a group of American department store buyers and fashion reporters visiting Ireland. Having worked as a dressmaker in London and Dublin since the late 1930s, Connolly was actually an experienced designer. Connolly's designs were a hit with the American visitors, and she was invited to the United Stated to present her work. In March of 1953, Connolly arrived in Philadelphia to present a collection at Gimbels Department Store. Inevitably, the showing was scheduled for St. Patrick's Day.
Though her first collection featured a variety of well-received suits and day dresses, it was a ball gown of finely pleated Irish linen "of a quality so fine it was almost chiffon-like in weight" that received the most attention.2 As her career progressed, Connolly's consistent use of this same lightweight, pleated linen became a trademark. In 1971, almost 20 years after Connolly's first visit to the United States, women attending a Sybil Connolly trunk show in New York were still enthusiastic about her pleated linen dresses.
Popular conceptions of Japanese textile design usually focus on textiles similar to the sky-blue stenciled and embroidered silk seen in this 19th century kimono dressing gown. Made of natural fibers and featuring patterns and motifs borrowed from the natural world, these textiles are the work of skilled artisans trained in a variety of techniques, including weaving, dying, painting and embroidery. The resulting textiles are prized works of art, demonstrating the importance of textile traditions and workmanship to Japanese culture.
Lovely as they are, these textiles are only one branch of textile creation in Japan. In the early 1980s (just as Japanese fashion designers emerged on the world stage) Japanese textile designers began experimenting with new, often synthetic, textiles. Capitalizing on Japan's strong history of textile design and manufacturing, designers used both traditional and invented techniques to create and manipulate new textiles into existence. Like their traditional predecessors, these textiles are produced using time and labor intensive techniques.
Color and pattern are usually the first aspects of a garment to catch the eye, closely followed by silhouette. But what about texture? Though texture might not be the first thing we notice, it plays an important role in establishing the mood of a garment. Would a roughly woven cotton textile be appropriate for a glamorous evening gown? Maybe, but it would take a talented designer to offset the rustic, outdoorsy mood of the textile and craft it into a glamorous evening ensemble. A smooth and glossy silk textile would seem equally out of place on a weekend camping trip.
Like colors and silhouettes, textures go in and out of fashion. Slippery, synthetic textures dominated the late 1970s, while starched cottons and stiff silks were popular in 1950s fashions. Do popular textile textures affect the spirit and culture of the era in which they are popular? Though it's impossible to directly pinpoint this relationship, it's certainly an intriguing train of thought. With that in mind, take a look at this selection of different textile textures from the FIDM Museum!
Between 1911 and 1917, Irene and Vernon Castle were at the forefront of a "craze" for social dancing. Usually called "modern dance" at the time, social dance was promoted as form of healthy and enjoyable recreation. Accompanied by lively music, social dances were usually given memorable names, such as Turkey Trot, Grizzly Bear and Bunny Hug. Though some conservative thinkers considered the relatively close contact and hectic movements of social dance vulgar, the Castles insisted that "real dancing is not a series of gymnastic contortions...real dancing means graceful measures tripped out to the lilting rhythms of fine music."1 Irene and Vernon Castle promoted their refined version of social dance through appearances on stage and screen and by opening a nightclub and dancing school in New York.
In 1914, the Castles authored an instruction manual titled Modern Dance. In additional to the detailed descriptions and images depicting dance steps, Irene Castle authored several chapters focusing on appropriate dancing dress for women. Included are suggestions on corset types (the Castle Corset, designed specifically for dancers), shoe types, stocking color and an injunction against over-sized "picture" hats, which are "unpleasant" for dancing.2 Though Modern Dance features several images of Irene Castle in large hats, she is also pictured wearing a small, close-fitting cap similar to the crocheted and embroidered cap pictured below.