WILLIAMSBURG, VA. – Colonial Williamsburg will model an extensive selection of its antique fashion finery beginning this fall in the exhibition “The Language of Clothing.” The yearlong display, featuring more than 300 pieces of authentic clothing, accessories and dolls, will be open to the public at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, October 26 through October 26, 2003.
People of every era have used clothing not only to meet daily functional needs, but also to communicate concepts such as status, social standing and even current notions of propriety. Like letters or documents from the past, antique clothes tell stories about the people who originally made and wore them. How and when was the garment made, used or altered? How was the wearer’s body shaped? What styles did people consider beautiful or acceptable for a particular occasion? Are there hidden messages in the shape or style of the garment?
The display will be divided into individual themes, including: shopping for Eighteenth Century clothing; a time line of how clothing changed during the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries; consumer availability of costumes and textiles, suggested through groupings of accessories and small garments; the dual nature of American textiles from silks to homespun; clothing for the life cycle from cradle to grave; how trade brought English, Chinese and Indian textiles to American clothing; Eighteenth Century clothing connoisseurship; formal and court clothing; informal and work clothing.
Highlights of “The Language of Clothing” will include women’s gowns, circa 1740-1860, ranging from gold- and silver-brocaded formal gowns to everyday jackets and petticoats; men’s suits, circa 1760-1860, ranging from silk-embroidered court presentation suits to servants’ liveries and everyday leather breeches; children’s clothes, circa 1700-1830, including infants’ shirts, embroidered and lace-trimmed caps, tiny frocks worn by boys and girls, boys’ first suits and boned stays or corsets; accessories for men, women and children, circa 1700-1850, including caps, hats, aprons, gloves, shoes and fans; and woven and printed textile fragments.
An accompanying publication, What Clothes Reveal: The Language of Clothing in Colonial America by Linda Baumgarten, Colonial Williamsburg curator of textiles and costumes, published by Yale University Press, is available.
“The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has collected clothing since the early 1930s,” said Baumgarten, who is exhibition curator as well as author of the exhibition publication. “The antique costumes in its collection are an unsurpassed archive of aesthetic beauty and documentary information about people living in the Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Centuries.”
Colonial Williamsburg’s DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum displays the foundation’s collection of English and American decorative arts. Entered through the reconstructed Public Hospital of 1773, the museum is on Francis Street near Merchants Square. For information, 757-220-7724 or www.colonialwilliamsburg.org