"Decades of Dazzling Dresses," an exhibit direct from the museum's own collection of women’s costumes, will be open from May 4, 2013 through January 19, 2014 in the first floor gallery at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum. It will feature a unique dress and complementary accessories from each of the decades of 1880 to 1920.
Included in the exhibit are two dresses that have been recently conserved to stabilize tears in the fabric plus an “exploded” 1880s dress with all its fashionable unmentionables. “We have so many wonderful women’s costumes in our collection and have wanted to display them for a long time,” said Paula Metzner, Assistant Director for Collections and Exhibits. “We don’t get many opportunities to do that.”
Metzner said the exhibit includes six dresses that offer a good representation of the 1880s through the 1930s. “They are great examples because they were not only worn by women from this region but they show the drastic change from layers of undergarments and restrictive corsets in the 1880s, to the complete opposite of the 1920s when women were looking for freedom and comfort in their garments,” said Metzner.
Museum Registrar Sarah Miller said the changes through the decades are dramatic. “It’s been interesting to see how much women's fashion and their shape and silhouette changed in just a few decades,” Miller said. “It has been a lot of fun to research the dresses and objects from our collection and be able to share these ‘treasures’ with our patrons.”
Design Assistant Megan Burtzloff said she is impressed by the rich fabrics and intricate details in the dresses on display. “As a person who shops in a clothing store with my hands first and eyes second, I wanted to share the textures of these luxurious textiles with our visitors,” Burtzloff said. “We are creating a touch-and-feel mannequin so the visitor can experience, with their hands, materials that are similar to the ones used in the exhibit.”
Metzner said the exhibit should have wide appeal. “Everyone can enjoy this display – it doesn’t just have dresses – we also have complementary artifacts and a photograph from each of the decades to help put the dresses in context,” she said. “This is a first for us, so we hope when visitors come they’ll sign our visitor book and tell us what they like about the exhibit. We take those comments very seriously.”