The second costume exhibit we visited last week was “Nineteenth-Century Costume Treasures” at the Shippensburg University Fashion Archives. This is a small musuem located in Shippensburg, PA at the state school there. I learned about this exhibit from a post on Adventures of a Costumer.
The exhibit covers garments from then entire century, starting with a 1790-1810 work dress. Most of the clothing comes from the PA/MD/VA area, and several pieces were donated by families connected with the university. Most of the pieces are women’s gowns, but there were also children’s clothes and some menswear.
The clothes are mounted on dressforms that were carefully carved to fit each piece. The setup is such that you can often walk all the way around each garment, so you can see the front and back. The displays are not behind glass, so you can get quite close.
The descriptions of each garment are very informative, often carefully describing construction details and quirks about each piece. Since many of the clothes were donated directly by the families that wore them, the tags often include interesting tidbits about the original owners as well.
Although Shippensburg isn’t the most accessible place (it’s about a 2 hour drive from Washington, DC, without traffic), the musuem has published a great exhibition catalog that can be ordered here. It includes pictures of nearly all of the garments in the exhibit and prints the tags that accompany them. Furthermore, the catalog also includes many period photos and fashion plates that put each of the garments in context. I’ve read through the entire book, and it’s one of the best catalogs I’ve seen, especially for a small museum.