Fashion: Past & Present
The Missouri History Museum’s textile collection is in demand across the country.
The Missouri History Museum has long been a staple of education and entertainment on the St. Louis cultural scene, housing unique exhibits (“250 in 250”), hosting professionally moderated discussions (“Suspicion Nation: Race and Diversity Issues in St. Louis”) and organizing activities for the whole family (Twilight Tuesdays). Now, the museum’s extensive textile collection—one of the country’s largest and most revered—has entered the limelight as organizations nationwide are vying for a piece of the historical pie.
“Our textile collection is much bigger than people realize,” says Missouri History Museum’s assistant director of communications, Leigh Walters, who attributes the increase in demand partly to the development and upkeep of the museum’s web catalog, which facilitates a convenient search of its database of historical documents, textiles and artifacts. The user-friendly program is comprehensive, organized by both category and year, and includes easy access to photography.
The vast clothing and textile collection contains approximately 18,000 pieces of men’s, women’s and children’s clothing and accessories, as well as household textiles, from the late 18th century to the present. According to the Missouri History Museum’s senior curator, Shannon Meyer, highlights include rare 19th-and 20th-century dresses made by St. Louis dressmakers, Veiled Prophet gowns, wardrobe selections from the 1904 World’s Fair and several designer pieces, including a Charles James ball gown.
The rise in national interest has kept museum employees like Meyer busy. Within the past several months, she has traveled the country to assist in the installation of borrowed pieces for a variety of exhibits at cultural institutions, including the highly revered exhibition by the National Constitution Center, “American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition,” whose stops have included St. Louis, Indianapolis, Philadelphia and St. Paul. Most recently, Meyer hit the road with selected costumes from the museum’s collection, worn by modern dance pioneer Katherine Dunham’s dance troupe in the 1930s and ’40s. The pieces will be on display at the Museum of the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York for its “Dance and Fashion” exhibit, as well as at the Detroit Institute of Arts’ “The Art of American Dance,” which will later travel to the Denver Art Museum and the Crystal Bridges Museum of Modern Art in Arkansas.
Local history and fashion buffs can view pieces from the textile collection during the History Museum’s fall 2015 exhibit, “Little Black Dress: From Mourning to Night.” The exhibition will be a retrospective of the development of one of fashion’s most iconic wardrobe staples and is scheduled for Nov. 21, 2015 through March 13, 2016.
Image courtesy of the Missouri History Museum Textile Collection.