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Introduction

Fashion is the outward and visible sign of a civilization, it is part of social history-  Amy Latour, “Kings of Fashion”

Throughout history, fashion has reflected technological, sociological, and political changes. There was a list of influences that shaped the form of the human figure, changing and developing it into the styles that we now see today. As this exhibit title “Shifting Silhouettes” suggests, it speaks to the innovations and access to information that occurred in fashion during the latter part of the 19th century into the early 20th century and the way in which it shaped the various styles that defined this time in history. Advancements that occurred in technology, combined with the changes in how the form, or more specifically the female form, was viewed during the period, affected the ways in which women of the time looked at fashion both as an opportunity for self-expression as well as a platform for social change.

By the third quarter of the 19th century, the pace at which women’s fashion silhouettes were changing was increasing more rapidly than ever before. This period was defined by innovations such as the bustle, various corset shapes and lengths, tailor-mades, ready-to-wear and so much more. The cavalcade of fashions presented here can be a lens through which we learn about women in these decades, reflecting a changing world in which women were developing a new consciousness of their role in society. Political movements such as Dress reform along with the Women’s Suffrage movement allowed many to have a voice in a time when certain individual freedoms were hard to obtain. 

The garments included in this exhibit are from two Poughkeepsie collections: Vassar College Historic Costume Collection and the collection belonging to the Locust Grove Historic Estate. This exhibit was curated as part of the student work for the DRAM: 313 Historic Costume Collection and Exhibition intensive course at Vassar College, which was comprised of students from various disciplines across the curriculum. The course involved the research, analysis, and investigation of the physical objects from both collections which then culminated in what is presented here.