Vintage gallery joins art, history

By: Meghan Hudson, Staff Writer
Featured image by Meghan Hudson

Filled wall to wall with vintage dresses, advertisements, shoes and undergarments, the spring semester was kicked off with a unique, multi-departmental exhibit on Jan. 30, at the third floor Art Gallery in the Center for the Arts.         

The center’s newest exhibit, “From the Inside Out: Building the Silhouette,” is a gallery that was co-curated by Erin Lehman, the director of the Holtzman and Center for the Arts galleries, and Julie Potter, an associate professor in the Department of Theatre Arts.

Lehman said the pair had been working on this project for over a year and a half, having been inspired by Potter’s past gallery experiences.

According to the exhibition’s notes, the collection consists of quilled petticoats, a pelisse, dresses, gowns, bodices, and a robe de style, all originating from between 1770 and 1920.

The silhouette for many of these dresses remained fairly consistent: curvaceous with an especially tiny waist. Their figures were formed via corsets, bulky underwear, and bustles.

Popular materials for many of these dresses were silk and chiffon. Chiffon was popular thanks to its elegant detailing and the way it appeared to flow perfectly down the body. Silk on the other hand, due to it breathability, served as an excellent material for staying cool when getting active. Women could dance freely and comfortably in these materials without worrying about overheating.

One entire wall within the gallery was completely covered in vintage advertisements, with one advertisement reading “There is a style of P.N Practical Front exactly suited to your figure!” Much like this advertisement, most were marketing the “perfect figure” that was longed for at the time. Some advertisers even included paper dolls which could be cut out and dressed to one’s own liking.

The exhibit allowed students to take a walk through history, and get an idea of what they may have been wearing over a century ago.

“This exhibit drew me in because the dresses look vintage yet refreshing,” said freshman Alex Tamayo. “The neutral color scheme and the fine detail — it’s not often you get to see this type of fashion. It gives other students and I a connection to history that we can actually see and touch.”

Despite the fashion being seemingly opposite to what one might see nowadays, Lehman argued that the past and present styles are actually more similar than they are different.

“I don’t think anything [in the gallery] is that much different today,” Lehman said. “People are still trying to shape their bodies in a way that they find pleasing. It used to be that you shape the silhouette with exterior things like corsets and bustles and things like that, and now we shape it more from diet and exercise. It’s always about trying to create a pleasing form.”

According to both curators, the exhibit’s goal is to provide onlookers with insight into how society’s fashions have changed throughout the years, and the ways in which outward culture has evolved and yet stayed the same. The gallery is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, now through March 17.

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