Life as the textile expert at a regional history museum

Monday, December 15, 2014

Helloooo Sailor!

It's that time of year!

Advent? Hanukkah? Solstice? Well yes, but also MANNEQUIN DRESSING TIME.

Ever since the new MOHAI opened two years ago I've been rotating the garments at the museum every six months. Prep work happens in December and June, and the switches usually happen in January and July.

As usual, I've got a few pieces that I'm really excited about. This round is particularly thrilling because I've finally gotten approval to switch out the weird face mannequins for plainer forms.


I had a long list of reasons why I wasn't a big fan of these forms, but the main issue was that they limited what kinds of dresses I could use. There are a couple really fab gowns that didn't fit the old forms that are now back in the pipeline for display.

Whatever. I'll still haunt your dreams, suckers.

Also as usual, there are a few outfits that I'm nervous about. Will they be easy to dress? Are there hidden condition issues that will only become obvious halfway through the process? One frequent source of consternation is the WWII uniform. With most of the other outfits I feel confident doing the dressing and writing labels. If I have questions about how something should be properly dressed, I know how to do that research and what sources to look at. I can also feel confident that my educated guess is probably pretty good, and it is unlikely that someone will be OUTRAGED by a choice I make. But military uniforms are a whole different deal. I don't know that much about them, but there are a lot of people who do. If I put the wrong pieces together, tie something the wrong way, or attach a medal in the wrong place, people will notice that mistake IMMEDIATELY. And they will make sure someone HEARS ABOUT IT.

Or perhaps just stop what they are doing and look at me with distain

For this round I picked a crisp Navy dress blue uniform, colloquially referred to as "crackerjacks (someone had to tell me that, I had no idea).

Well, Hellooooo Sailor!
(fun fact: Looking someone up and down and then saying "Hellooooo Sailor" 
has a 9/10 success rate of totally creeping them out)

Becoming a fashion historian is like gaining a sort of visual literacy. I sometimes have to remind myself that the general public doesn't automatically know the difference between clothing from 1880s and 1900, and that a slinky long dress with a natural waist is obviously more of a 1930s look than 1925.

Or that calling this a "Marie Antoinette Costume" is clearly some kind of mistake

But I don't have that visual literacy for uniforms, and it sort of freaks me out. Fortunately, I know a couple experts I can call on with questions about ties, tucked or untucked shirts, and what all the symbols and stripes mean. So I'm learning, but its not a language that I'm picking up easily. However, I am at the point where I can correctly identify that this: NOT standard military issue. 

Unless there is some special ops stripper division that I don't know about.

Sigh. Still so much to learn. 

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