Today's post is courtesy of our registrar, Meghan Grossman Hansen. In this post, Meghan examines the interaction between the fashionable silhouette and the human body in the second half of the nineteenth century. You'll also get a sneak peak at two day gowns featured in our upcoming exhibition, FABULOUS! Ten Years of FIDM Museum Acquisitions, 2000-2010.
As a fashion museum professional, I spend a lot of time looking at fashion plates. By examining these beautiful illustrations, including this one from the Los Angeles Public Library, the researcher becomes familiar with the fashionable silhouette in its most idealized state, an important part of learning about the history of fashion. And yet, on a daily basis, I work with clothes that were worn by actual women, not the idealized figures of fashion illustrations. This dichotomy of ideal and real comes to life when we dress a historic garment for exhibition.
Paris, France, c. 1897
P. Barroin, Designer
Printed dotted Swiss, silk chiffon, silk taffeta & cotton braid
Gift of Jane Riggs & Lynelle Doll
During a photography shoot for the forthcoming exhibition catalog, FABULOUS! Ten Years of FIDM Museum Acquisitions, 2000-2010, our curators selected this Parisian couture day dress by P. Barroin to represent the assimilation of sportswear into French high fashion. What we all noticed once she was dressed was her height, at least 5 feet 10 inches! We were all wowed by her height, and seeing this garment dressed was an object lesson in how changes to silhouette were proportional to the individual being dressed. For a woman of her height, the shoulder puffs and skirt hem were proportionately expanded. The result is a balanced shape of broad shoulders and wide skirts, accentuating the narrow waist. This Amazonian woman corseted herself down to 28 inches, a far cry from Scarlett O’Hara’s legendary 16 inch-waist. Nevertheless, this stately woman appears both fashionable and impressive in stature. This is incontrovertible proof against the myth that ‘everyone was smaller back then.’