Fashion history is a fascinating topic since, by studying specific garments or accessories, their cut and construction, it is often possible to discover important events that left an indelible mark upon society.
A recently opened exhibition at Antwerp’s MoMu, entitled “Living Fashion. Women's Daily Wear 1750-1950”, looks at the influence of fashion on the everyday lives of middle-class women in Western Europe between 1750 and 1950 and at the impact new activities had on their attires.
Featuring garments and accessories from the historic clothing collection of Jacoba de Jonge, the exhibition tries to reconcile the gap between fashion ideals of the day and the clothing that people were actually wearing at that time.
While also including elegant evening and formal wear, “Living Fashion” focuses a lot on day dresses, specific apparel employed during new leisure time activities.
In the 19th century, with the rise of the middle classes, each moment of the day became indeed characterised by its own particular dress code: mornings were dedicated to indoor activities, afternoons to walking, shopping or to sports, including tennis, climbing or horse riding.
The exhibition is divided in 13 different spaces that allow the visitor to explore various attires focusing also on masquerade costumes, chintz, and altering and remodelling clothes.
The most important section of the exhibition is probably the one analysing dresses worn during pregnancies as they looked still fashionable and perfectly adapted to the fashion silhouette of those times.
Clothes and accessories are accompanied by photographs and by the video "Dresses Undressed" by Dutch artist Bart Hess in collaboration with Harm Rensink, that explores the possibilities of six silhouettes included in the exhibition - a maternity dress, a riding habit, a remade dress, two dresses that could be used in more than one way, and a queue dress.
Dutch Jacoba de Jonge started collecting historic costumes when she was 16 with an heirloom from her great aunt. Her collection - currently featuring around 2,500 objects from 1770 to1950 – will soon become part of the permanent collection of the Fashion Museum in Antwerp.
When did the idea for this exhibit with items from your collection first come to MoMu?
Jacoba de Jonge: The MoMu was interested in the enlargement of the 18th and 19th centuries fashion collection; meanwhile, I was troubled about the future of my collection. In 2009 and 2010 some 40 dresses came already to the MoMu, because my collection was really too large. In August 2010 they asked me if there would be a possibility to take over all of my collection during the next two years with an exhibition in 2012 accompanied by a publication. This seemed a very good solution for my collection. You see, in the Netherlands there are five very large fashion collections without any space left for more acquisitions.
What does this exhibition tell us about the life of middle-class women between the 1800s and the 1900s?
Jacoba de Jonge: After thorough inspection of my collection the curator was impressed by the large overview of daily and normal wear of the better situated women compared to fashion plates and high society or haute couture fashion. So the exhibition tells us how the richer middle class women tried to dress as fashionable as possible, as shown in the fashion magazines, but without too much glamour or decoration. At the same time, the exhibition shows the developments in the life of these women with clothes made for travelling, sports, shopping and so on.
In your opinion what's the most interesting section of the exhibition and why?
Jacoba de Jonge: The pregnancy dresses are certainly the most interesting. During the 19th century pregnancy was un undiscussed subject. Every woman tried to hide it as much and as long as possible. It is not easy to recognise these dresses and they are rarely seen in exhibitions.
Which is the most exciting item in the exhibition, construction-wise?
Jacoba de Jonge: I do love the altered dresses. Altering materials was common practice for women and there is an entire section on the subject. The most interesting example is a dress from the 1940s made using the reverse of a red silk dress from the 1890s. The bodice of this dress integrates part of the skirt. It must have been a great surprise for a woman in the ‘40s to find inside the original dress this tomato-red shade, a more fashionable colour in the ‘40s. Because of the linining, the red fabric was not visible in the original 1890s dress.
And what's the rarest piece in the exhibition and your favourite one?
Jacoba de Jonge: Probably the rarest is a bright blue and white striped cotton dress from around 1904, made for rowing or sailing. I do not have a real favorite piece. I wouldn't really know which one is my favourite if I had to choose as I am fond of them all!
As a fashion collector, what fascinates you the most about garments and accessories, the hidden stories behind them, what they can tell us from a historical point of view, the materials they’re made of or their construction?
Jacoba de Jonge: The most fascinating aspect for me is what clothes tell you about the specific historical period when they were worn and the way people lived and moved in those times. Clothes do influence your posture and, as a consequence, your demeanour. Besides, I am always amazed to see - for example in old photographs - how everybody follows fashion, even if they don’t intend to.
Living Fashion. Women's Daily Wear 1750-1950. From the Jacoba de Jonge Collection is at the MoMu, Antwerp, until 12th August 2012.
Exhibition Poster © Paul Boudens & Sebastiaan Van Doninck
Female croquet champion in summer outfit, 1906 © The Bystander
Images of the museum installations by Ronald Stoops
Member of the Boxxet Network of Blogs, Videos and Photos
Member of the Boxxet Network of Blogs, Videos and Photos