Little Black Dress: From Mourning to Night

I have not done a lot of sewing. I take that back, I have not finished a lot of sewing lately. I have several things in process. I have been working on a pair of culottes for a month. I finished everything but the waistband in a week! The waistband has been re-attached 3 times! Hopefully there will be at least 2 or 3 things finished this month!

8 - Coco Chanel

The Missouri History Museum in St. Louis is fabulous and it is terrible that I have never frequented it as I should. I am not a big history buff, but they did just finish up an exhibit that really called to me; “The Little Black Dress: From Mourning to Night.” An entire exhibition made with materials in only one color has the potential to be visually boring, but they really made good use of color throughout the exhibition to really make the dresses stand out. 1 2

The exhibition was curated chronologically, for the most part. It began with mourning dresses and accessories. The oldest dress (below) is from 1880. It is a very fine silk and silk-faille evening dress. Can you imagine how that has survived? It is truly amazing!
6 - 1880

Next to that was a two-piece silk and crepe dress from 1905 with those beautiful organdy ruffles along the train. I wish I had a little bit better photos of the glass Victorian tear-catchers! They were stunning small glass containers with intricate designs painted on them that fit under the eye. I should read more about those. I have so many etiquette questions. How long do you keep the tears? Are they like holiday greeting cards, where you only keep them through the holiday? What is the required relationship between you and the deceased to keep your tears for them? 1st grade teachers?  Ex-boyfriends? Pets?

5 - 1905
After the segment on mourning came a room for just Coco Chanel. I am not well-versed in fashion or designers. Until recently designers did not focus on plus sizes so there was no reason for me to get excited! Although I have to say the dress on the right with the cream neckline was the only larger mannequin in the exhibition! Hello, friend!
9 - Chanel Collection

And here is the back of that studding satin dress with the cream tie. *Drools*

10 - Chanel Collection

Moving into the next room took you into women’s dresses from the 30’s to the 50’s. My one issue with this room is that green color, although I imagine it is reminiscent of the time period. The dresses really jumped from ornate to very functional.
11 - 30's to 40's

On into the 1970’s with knits, mini’s, maxi’s and peasant shapes. I’m way into this blue color behind them!

12 - 1970's

Here are some of the historical needle cases. It is so strange to think of needles as expensive, treasured possessions when nowadays you can pick them up at any corner store, grocery store, or pharmacy for almost nothing. Love that thumb thimble with nail polish on it. Let’s bring those back!
14 - 19th Century tools

Of course the 1904 World’s Fair was held in St. Louis so it has always been a part of any historical discussions of the city. The museum pulled out some photos and I loved this one of the seamstresses working on corsets in the Singer Sewing Machine Exhibit in the Palace of Manufacturing.

15 - 1904 World's Fair Seamstresses

This 1949 belted taffeta dress with lace cuffs and collar was really stunning in person. This photo does not do it justice. Sorry!
17 - 1949 Taffeta Dress

1970’s and 1980’s included some jersey knits and strapless dresses. Compared the older dresses, most of these really faded into the background for me. Perhaps because they are so familiar as to not induce the curiosity of the older pieces.
21 - 70's to 80's

Doesn’t this dress just scream Molly Ringwald prom dress? I love it! 1984 shift dress with ruffled sleeves.

21.5 - 1984

I felt the most nostalgia at the 1990’sand early 2000’s dresses. That is just my age. I can totally see Alyssa Milano in the one of the right. All of these are spandex blends and they remind me of things like the MTV movie awards. (Are those still happening?)
22 - 1990's

My two favorite dresses are featured below. The dress on the left is a black crepe with a turquoise beaded cape from 1932. Ugh! It’s gorgeous On the right is a bias-cut crepe halter dress with green accent details from the same time period. It is difficult to see but under the “sleeves and the double trains are green facings. It’s Maleficent chic!

23 - 30's fashion forward dresses

I wish I could give you a better picture from the back because this just doesn’t do them justice!
24

Right behind those pieces are two modern pieces. Below is local designer, Michael Drummond’s dress from 2014 made of x-rays and knit fabric. I wish there had been a few more contemporary, experimental pieces, but you can’t have everything!

27 - Michael Drummond 2014
These are all my photos so you can certainly find better ones at the Missouri History Museum’s Flickr account! If you scroll a little earlier in the albums you can find a really fascinating one on how they cleaned and restored the beads on the dresses. It took hundreds of hours to rid them of bead decay! Check it out, it is pretty fascinating!

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4 thoughts on “Little Black Dress: From Mourning to Night

  1. Thank you for sharing that exhibition. Some of those dresses are amazing and it’s fascinating to see the timeline. Those wonderful older ones do make me feel that fashion is on a downward trend! But having said that, the tear catchers sound like a bit of palaver. I’ll look out for your sewing finishes soon :)

    • I agree, but I wouldn’t want to have to go through the rigamarole of wearing some of those! Whenever I see someone write about “vintage details” I now know what they are talking about.

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