To mark the 100th anniversary of women’s right to vote, the Yolo County Historical Collection presents a look at turn-of-the-twentieth-century women’s fashion.
The importance of the “dressed body” is not only personal, it is socially and culturally significant. While the garments of the Fashion Forward exhibition show a linear trajectory of style from the 1880s to the 1920s, it is important to remember that freedom of the female form from physical constraints, such as corsets, happened over a long period of time. What started as a movement for women to wear more “healthy” garments emerged as the fight for gender equality and voter representation, culminating in the ratification of the 19th amendment.
Check out this Q&A from exhibit curator Iulia Bodeanu, Yolo County Museum Curator.
What was the inspiration for this exhibit?
Iulia: The Fashion Forward exhibition was inspired by the 100th anniversary of the passing of the 19th amendment on August 18th 1920 and highlights themes of social progress and women’s wear as a means of subverting social norms. The exhibition showcases the work of suffragists and local activists, who fought for the right of women to vote and provides an opportunity to discuss women’s social identity and how it has been historically presented to the world through fashion. This exhibition was a great opportunity to display some of the beautifully crafted women’s garments in the Yolo County Historical Collection while also looking at changes in style, form and function of these garments from the 1880s through to the 1920s.
What partnerships made this exhibition possible?
Iulia: This exhibition would not have been possible without the generous contribution and support of the Women’s History Month Committee, Yolo County Archives and YoloArts. The Women’s History Month Committee has supported community efforts and highlight the achievements of women past and present. The Women’s History Month Committee provided infrastructure which allowed for the garments to be safely displayed, with adherence to museum best practices. The Yolo County Archives provided primary documents and source material for the exhibition, which highlights the involvement of local Yolo County Women in the suffrage movement, such as Emily Hoppin, who led the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in Yolo County. We are grateful to our community partners and their ongoing dedication to our shared history.
How did you select objects from the collection for this exhibition?
Iulia: The items selected for the Fashion Forward exhibition are cross section of the finely crafted garments that were worn by women in Yolo County. The garments were selected for their intricacy of construction, material variation, color contrast and intended use of the garment. For example, the 1880 black satin two piece dress with its voluminous crinoline hoop skirt is placed in contrast with the mauve wool three piece suit with its streamlined skirt and bustle. These two dresses, aside from existing in two different eras, would have been worn to different occasions. The black dress would have been worn to religious services while the mauve dress would have been for social outings or visits. It was also important to show the undergarments and infrastructure that such dresses required, which is why we chose to display a corset and crinoline hoop alongside these dresses. The goal of the exhibition is therefore, not only to show stylistic changes through time and how garments evolved, but also to get viewers thinking about how women existed in and navigated their respective social environments.
What have you learned from this exhibit and what do you hope the viewers will learn?
Iulia: In curating this exhibition I have learned to appreciate the craftsmanship associated with creating garments before the advent of textile mechanization. Before sewing machines it would have taken months to make a dress. We are so accustomed to our “ready to wear” and “off the rack” clothing that it is hard to imagine a time when everything individuals wore was made by hand. When you look at the interior workings of women’s jackets, the bodice construction was just as impressive on the inside, as it was on the outside. Additionally, the number and layering of garments that women wore was equally impressive and required much time and labor to get dressed every morning. I hope viewers will learn to look closely at the detailing of garments. Stitching, construction, embellishments, are all labors of love for those who create clothing.
Visit the Online Gallery to view images of each work of art and learn more about the exhibition.
Iulia Bodeanu is Yolo County’s first Museum Curator and works under the Yolo County Library. With a Masters in Museum Studies from San Francisco State University and a Bachelor of Arts in English and Art History from the University of California, Berkeley, Ms. Bodeanu brings ten years of experience working with history and art collections to the Gibson House.
The Yolo County Historical Collection is comprised of 11,000 objects which date from the 1830s to the 1930s. The collection includes textiles, agricultural equipment, paintings, archival materials, ephemera, photographs, archaeological items, tools, ceramics, household items, furniture, personal items and of course, clothing. The collection is broad and includes items that would have been indispensable to a household at the turn of the twentieth century. Some of the items in the collection belonged to the Gibson family who occupied the historic home, but the majority have been donated by community members since 1975, when the house was placed on the national registry of historic sites. The Historical Collection has since become a treasure trove of items that represent material culture in early California.