Monday, April 9, 2012

Bodacious Bodices

by Nancy DeWitt

A collection of 1920s dresses
In the beginning, we didn't intend to feature historic clothing in our automobile museum. When several women in the local antique car club suggested we put some on display, we thought it sounded like a great idea. Armed with a small budget and an eBay account, we snapped up some pretty duster coats, a few mens' suits and several dresses and hats.

Fast forward to today. We now have more historic fashions on display than we do cars! Back when we were planning the museum, we didn't realize that clothing styles had evolved as dramatically as that of automobiles. Or, that some fashions were influenced by the automobile, and vice-versa. We also didn't anticipate how much our visitors would love seeing antique clothing alongside the cars. Barbara Cerny, our fashion curator, has done an amazing job at locating these historic pieces and exhibiting how fashions changed from the 1800s through the 1930s.

The oldest garments we have on display right now include several dresses from the late 19th Century. By the 1870s, fashion had evolved from hoop-skirted dresses of the 1860s to a narrower silhouette that emphasized the bust, waist and hips. Bustles and extremely tight corseting were used to achieve the desired shape. Overskirts, trimmings and trains were popular. Early in the decade, most bodices (the upper part of the dress) ended at the waist, but they soon began to lengthen. By 1877 bodices extended tightly over the hips, as seen on the black gown above, and bustles had diminished. Low, square necklines were common on evening dresses.

Dresses in the early 1880s, like the outer two in the above photo, had bodices that were short, tight fitting, and cut to a center point in the front. High, fitted collars were now fashionable. By 1880, trains began to disappear and "pannier" drapes at the hips became the rage. Skirts featured elaborate pleats, puffs, or draping, while decorations of ribbons, brocades and embroidery were now in vogue.

By the mid-1890s the bustle had disappeared. As skirts became more plain, bodices grew more elaborate, with frills, tucks, lace, embroidery, epaulettes and puffy sleeves. Some of these “leg-o-mutton sleeves” were so immense that they required two-and-one-half yards of material each!

We hope you will stop by to view these beautiful gowns up close, and to see how fashion continued to change from the Edwardian Era through the Roaring 20s and the glamorous 30s.

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