I have no idea whether these “stuff I’ve written” posts will be of interest, and I am loath to toot my own horn. I am only thinking that it might add to my credibility if anyone is wondering what my credentials are. I’ve curated quite a few exhibitions over the years, but most of them had no online existence or catalogue published; but here’s a list of what I’ve “properly” published on costume, with a list of exhibits I’ve curated and co-curated. There hasn’t been much time between exhibits to publish other things…oh well!

My most recent (2016) costume exhibition is probably the project I’m most proud of. ‘An Agreeable Tyrant’: Fashion After the Revolution looked at how American fashion in the 1780s-1820s was part of debates about how to forge a new American identity independent of Europe. This period (not coincidentally, approximately the lifespan of Jane Austen) is what I’d consider my chief specialty.

My favorite pair of outfits in “Agreeable Tyrant”: late 1790s

The garments in the exhibition included imported and domestic textiles and accessories, as well as some garments known to have been worn in Europe, to look at how Americans interpreted European styles. It is online at http://agreeabletyrant.dar.org/ (about 80% of the garments displayed are online, with abbreviated labels).

The catalogue is beautiful thanks to the graphic design and layout by Jeanne Krohn of Krohn Design (who also designed graphics for the Eye on Elegance quilt exhibition and catalogue).

I wrote the catalogue entries and an introductory essay, “The Problem of Fashion in a Democracy: Aspiration and Ambivalence.” There are also essays on European and American textiles used in fashion, by Madelyn Shaw, curator of textiles at the National Museum of American History (Smithsonian); how Americans remade their clothes to keep up with fashion, by Dr. Carolyn Ann Dowdell; a survey of women’s fashions by Dr. Ann Wass and of men’s clothing by Mark Hutter, Master Tailor at Colonial Williamsburg.

Also included are scaled patterns of a dress from approximately every 5 years starting with the 1780s into the mid 1820s, and five men’s coats from the 1780s through late 1820s. Carolyn Dowdell and Mackenzie Anderson Sholtz of Fig Leaf Patterns patterned the women’s garments, and Mark Hutter, Mike McCarty, and Ike Cech took the men’s coats’ patterns. Mackenzie formatted them all into the line drawings like the page you see below.

Pattern for the 1780s coat in the exhibit

I’m not trying to push sales, but anticipating that some readers might be interested, I will say that yes, they are still available at the DAR Museum gift shop. https://www.dar.org/dar-shopping/dar-online-store/museum-shop

Also in the federal-era vein is my article published in the Jane Austen Society of North America’s journal Persuasions in 2015. “Achieving ‘An Air of Decided Fashion’: How Austen’s Ladies Adapted the Latest from London” used the phrase describing Darcy’s party’s on their arrival at the assembly ball in Meryton (in Pride and Prejudice) to examine how provincial gentry like the Bennets interpreted London fashions. The article is not online, unfortunately.

My 2012 exhibition, Fashioning the New Woman, had a catalogue which– while chock full of good images and mini-essays on women in sports, college, social reform movements, and World War I– had production values which let’s say…weren’t anything to write home about. (As in, I formatted it in Word. Nightmare.)

The exhibit was pretty cool, but only the most basic information accompanies the images in the online exhibit. All the meaty stuff about what women of various levels of badassery did in the Progressive Era is missing. Sad really… but here it is if you want to see the clothes that appeared in it. https://www.dar.org/museum/fashioning-new-woman-1890-1925-0

Entrance to the New Woman exhibition

Since the early 2000s, I’ve been transcribing and researching the 20-year diary of a Connecticut woman, Sylvia Lewis Tyler. This has involved extensive research in many primary sources including maps, deeds, gravestones, probate records, and account books of dressmakers, tailors, lawyers, weavers, dyers, and I can’t think what else, to flesh out her family story and her sewing, dyeing, weaving, knitting, spinning, and quilting.

Page from the Sylvia Lewis Tyler diary, in NSDAR’s Americana Collection

I have presented several lectures on aspects of Sylvia’s life and work from Ohio (where she moved in 1817) to Connecticut (where she lived til the age of 32) and elsewhere, often focusing on her sewing and quilting. My 2010 lecture presented at the Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife “Federal Fashion in the Diary of Sylvia Lewis” was published in their Annual Proceedings titled Dressing New England : clothing, fashion, and identity (ed. Peter Benes and Jane Montague Benes). (I wrote a much shorter, more basic discussion of Sylvia’s diary for the March/April 2012 edition of the DAR’s magazine American Spirit.)

Covers of three of Sylvia’s diary volumes as pictured in the American Spirit article

Some years ago Martha Pullen, whose company published books and a magazine about heirloom sewing, asked if we’d like to publish a book with her on selections from the DAR Museum costume collection. The focus in her “Favorite Places” series is on decorative techniques and features such as tucks, lace inserts, fabric manipulation trims, smocking, and embroidery. The books in her series have mostly late 19th and early 20th century women’s and children’s clothes, but ours includes much earlier pieces and most of our men’s waistcoats.

That’s it for published and online work. Here is a list of the exhibits I have curated or co-curated at the DAR Museum:

2019: A Piece of her Mind: Culture and Technology in American Quilts

2016: ‘An Agreeable Tyrant’: Fashion After the American Revolution

2014: Eye on Elegance: Quilts of Early Maryland and Virginia

2012: Fashioning the New Woman: American Women and Fashion 1890-1925

2008: New Threads: Recent Acquisitions in Costume and Textiles

2008: Quilts from a Young Country (Loan exhibit at Houston International Quilt Festival)

2007: And So To Bed (co-curator: Patrick Sheary)

2004-05: Home and Country: Quilts and Samplers in the DAR Museum (co-curator: Olive Graffam)

2004: Something Old, Something New:  Inventing the American Wedding

1998: Costume Myths and Mysteries (co-curator: Cricket Bauer)

2 thoughts on “Stuff I’ve Written and Curated: Historic Clothing

    1. Thank you!! It was a pretty exhibition and I’m proud of the labels which were more extensive than the website allows….the catalog did better… and many of the garments are online with closeups and interior bodice pics at collections.dar.org too

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