Saturday, October 23, 2010

Field Trip: LACMA "Fashioning Fashion" Exhibit

"Timeline" of white (light-colored) dresses showing the evolution
of women's fashion from the late 1700s through 1915
at the beginning of the exhibit

Today I went on a field trip with my sewing class to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) to see the new "Fashioning Fashion:  European Dress in Detail, 1700-1915" exhibit.  

We arrived an hour before the museum opened to the public and were fortunate to have a private tour.  According to the docent who led our tour, LACMA acquired 1,000 pieces of historical costume by purchasing the collection of two dealers, one in London and the other in Switzerland, who had been collecting historical pieces for about 25 years.  About 100 pieces are on display for this exhibit, and it will be many years, if not decades, before the majority of this collection has been seen by the public. 

A diaphanous dress by Paul Poiret, circa early 1900s

If you are a fashion designer or simply love historical costume don't miss this exhibit!  The garments themselves are beautiful, but the handmade fabric and lace textiles that the garments and accessories are made from are simply AMAZING.  The court dress below, owned by Queen Maria II of Portugal, originally had a 20 foot-long train, but the train was later refashioned by a subsequent owner to a length of twelve feet long.  The embroidery was done by hand with what must have been miles of gold metallic thread:

Court dress, Maria II of Portugal, circa 1845

Apparently, the museum curators thought that this was a mourning dress when it was first received because it is black.  However, they learned that it was not unfashionable in Portugal to wear black for court dress as it would have been in Europe at the time.

There were many unusual pieces in this collection, and I wish that I had taken my camera today.  (I had no idea that they allow non-flash photography for this exhibit!).  Along with the garments were many examples of undergarments, including paniers (side hoops) that were six feet long from end-to-end and are considered to be the largest on display in North America.  There were gorgeous beaded capes and hats (for both men and women), woven shawls from Kashmir India, an incredible whitework boy's frock, and several samples of Berlin wool work garments and slippers, including the exact sampler pattern featured here.  

For those of you who cannot make it to LACMA, enjoy this short video by David Wicall that will give you a taste of some of the lovely pieces in the collection.  For those of you who make historical garments to wear, at about 1:35 seconds note the two horshehair bustles and one collapasible bustle (it allowed the wearer to sit down!).  And don't miss one of my favorite pieces in the entire collection:  a man's suit embroidered with a dandelion motif (2:47).  Finally, a sweeping view of the court dress train above is at 3 minutes 27 seconds.

Finally, we stopped by Mood fabrics today and I almost lost my mind. I get a little crazy when I'm around all those beautiful fabrics because I want a little bit of everything. I restrained myself and came away only with this delicate wool mohair out of which I will make a simple shrug (I snapped these quickly before it became dark, so I'm sorry for the fuzziness):

I love the beautiful stitch pattern! The color is a lovely green and my quickie photos do not do it justice. More on my current sewing projects in an upcoming post.

Photos courtesy of LACMA and the Los Angeles Times.


  1. Thanks for sharing this exhibit - wish I could make it there.
    Highlights something I love about sewing, that we are using the same skills that sewers have used for hundreds of years. Very interesting.

  2. Thanks Beth -- glad you enjoyed it. The construction details on some of the garments were indeed very interesting. Still, I think some of the time-intensive hand embroidery skills may be lost to the average/self-taught crafter these days.

  3. What an interesting post. I did not know thet had a museum for old dress designs.

  4. What a great and interesting collection of designs. I did not know this type of place even existed! How fun. Happy VTT!

  5. Awesome post. How fun to take time seeing all those lovely garments. Debbie

  6. Wow, very interesting post. Thanks for taking us with you.

  7. Great exhibition! You could actually see the dresses closely, and not behind a glass. The embroideries are amazing.


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