Life as the textile expert at a regional history museum

Sunday, December 20, 2015

In All The Choirs: Christmas Update

As I mentioned back in October, my time has been consumed with approximately 75% more choir than last year. I thought I would get burnt out, but it hasn't happened yet. And now that it is December I am LOVING all the Advent and Christmas music I get to sing.

Side note: I also like it when the sheet music has weird illustrations on the cover. Like, what exactly is going on here?

Anyway, last weekend I went to a Christmas crafting party that I go to just about every year. It is with a friend's family, and while everyone else has cool creative stuff to work on I usually just grab all the old magazines I can find and glue together some weird collage. I've never quite lived down my masterpiece from the first year I went, when we all made "pin-a-peeps" which are basically dioramas set up in a shoebox that you view from a hole at one end of the box. This was mine:

If you can't quite tell, that is Christina Aguilera and her underboob peeking out from behind a festively snowy tree.

I've yet to make anything quite that good, but I've been decently proud of some of my other creations. Here is one from a couple years ago:

I woke up on the morning of the craft party this year with no good ideas. But after a morning of singing I felt inspired by our purple and white choir robes. So I ended up making myself a little celebrity choir.

(I suggest clicking on it to get the full view)

Not gonna lie, I think it is a minor masterpiece. 

This week I'm looking forward to experiencing a Christmas Eve singing marathon-- one of my choirs is singing for the 7:30 service and the other for the 11pm. ELEVEN PM IS THE START TIME. I'm hoping i'll be so hopped up on Christmas cheer and Wilcox descants that I won't even notice how tired I am. But if I start hallucinating and Jane Fonda appears to me in the Soprano section...well... it might be a weird Christmas. 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Fashion in Unexpected Places

A few weeks ago I was at a concert at an old church in Seattle. They had rented a small organ from St. James (Catholic cathedral up the hill) for some pieces that needed more of a small continuo sound rather than the big pipe organ. At the intermission my Dad, ever the organ nerd, went up to check it out. He came back excitedly saying that I had to see something. I expected that I was going to have to muster up some enthusiasm for the keyboard or the style of pipes, but instead this is what he was pointing to:

In case you can't read it, the little plaque says:

In Memory Of
Dedicated Advent I 1986

John follows me everywhere!!

Hay Girl Hay

Since JDB passed away in 1980, this would probably have been purchased with money he left to St. James after his death. (As opposed to the green carpet he bought for the church while he was still around to enjoy it.) I always find it meaningful to discover some new, tangible mark left by someone from the past.  John left money for St. James to use for the arts, and 30 years later it is still being used and enjoyed by the people of Seattle.

Speaking of lasting marks left by people of the past, I had the joy this week of visiting the Leary Mansion again, aka the HQ for the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia. It was with a group of other registrars and collections managers and we got a full tour.

No one seemed to be in that day so the archivist took us everywhere, even the Bishop's office.


But the best part was the fireplace in the bedroom of the original owner, Mrs. Leary. 

What have we here?

I thought it was sort of funny that in this pseudo-classical scene of nymphs and cherubs, this lady was wearing a 1920s bathing suit. But then the archivist explained that she was originally painted naked and that at some point someone decided she needed to be covered up. And apparently it wasn't the church people who did it! It happened before the church bought the building, so either Mrs. Leary didn't like people leering at it, or it was the Red Cross workers who used the house during WWII.

Also, this time I snapped a picture of one of those Ted Rand bishop paintings:

Ted Rand who also created images like this: 

So there it is. John Doyle Bishop sneaking into 21st century choir concerts, vintage bathings suits making appearances in pastoral fire places, and fashion illustration entwined with church portraiture. Wherever you are, fashion will find you. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

St. Catherine's Day 2015

Back in 2013, when I first started posting about St. Catherine's Day, I wrote this modification of the traditional St. Catherine's Day prayer:

St Catherine, St Catherine, O lend me thine aid, And see that another Poehler/Fey movie one day gets made

Well, well, well, what have we here?

St. Catherine is looking out for us y'all!

So what should us archivists, educators, hat enthusiasts, and unmarried folks wish for this year? Here are a few I came with. I decided to break out of the rhyming format and just go free form. 

St Catherine, St Catherine, O lend me thine aid. Guide my eye and my hand as I pass over the hat collection in inventory. Give me compassion for the ugly and fragile, enthusiasm for those rich in provenance, and hope for those whose provenance is not yet known. And give me courage when facing hats with giant bird faces or weird fur appendages, for they are creepy, St. Catherine. 

St Catherine, St Catherine, O lend me thine aid. Deliver me from the temptation of joining Tinder. Unless I change my mind about that, then please be supportive and cool about it, St. Catherine. Either way, deliver me from dick pics. 

St Catherine, St Catherine, O lend me thine aid. Help me to find a winter hat that is warm but that won’t make Olivia embarrassed to be seen with me. Draw back my hand when I reach for that 1990s Blossom hat that always calls to me from the depths of the closet. 

St Catherine, St Catherine, O lend me thine aid. Impart thy wisdom on those who call me with donation offers. When there is a voicemail, let the connection be good, the description concise, and the phone number recited slowly (deliver me, St. Catherine from puzzling descriptions and garbled phone numbers). And let it not be a wedding dress. 


Monday, November 9, 2015

My Favorite Period Movies

Today, I decided I was in the mood for making lists, and decided to make one about my favorite period movies. Period dramas were basically my gateway drug into a career as a fashion historian and they continue to have a huge influence on my life. A list of 10 would be nice and round, but for some reason I could only come up with 9 that I felt truly deserved to be on my best list. Maybe there is something meaningful about always being on the search for that great movie that will round out the list. Or maybe tomorrow I'll wake up and think of the 10th and feel like an idiot for forgetting it. Whatever. There are 9. Deal with it.

1. Pride and Prejudice (1995)

Olivia and I re-watched this the other day, and I commented that I've basically never recovered from seeing this the first time. This is where it all started. There is something about this adaptation that is so compelling, so delightful, so re-watchable. Loving this movie led to watching other period movies, reading the books they are based on, developing understanding of historical fashion and eras, and eventually led me to graduate school and the job I have now. Blame Jane Austen. Blame Andrew Davies. Blame Mr. Darcy and his proclivity for swimming.

Best Costume Moment:

Ok, even I'm not cheesy enough to pick the wet T-shirt. But how about the scene right after the lake dive?

After changing clothes with historically inaccurate speed, Darcy re-emerges in this beautiful green coat with a striped vest and tan pants. Elizabeth has on this dark orange spencer jacket and they just look so perfect and elegant.

2. Sense and Sensibility (1995)

It is hard putting Sense and Sensibility second to anything, because as a feature-length movie I think it is basically perfection. This movie is excruciatingly good. The screenplay is funny at times and heartbreaking at others; the cast includes Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, Alan Rickman, Hugh Grant, and Hugh Laurie; and it is beautifully directed by Ang Lee.

Best Costume Moment

Bad girls get the most colorful and ridiculous clothes in Jane Austen adaptations and FANNY DASHWOOD IS HERE FOR THAT PARTY.

3. North & South (2004)

There are a few deviations from the book that bother me every time I watch this, but everything else is so good that it still comes out near the top. This story has layers of interesting commentary on class, economics, worker's rights, the role of women, religion, military well as mesmerizing shots of a working 19th century mill. This is the movie you show your friend who thinks period films are just about rich people going to parties. Also, it has a male lead who gets a five star rating on the Mr. Darcy scale of tortured brooding.

Best Costume Moment:

I both love and hate the ending of this movie (mild spoilers ahead). Hate, because the makeout session in the train station is WILDLY inappropriate for the time period and why oh whyyyyy is Henry there to watch...but also love because it is so good and so satisfying and everything you want after 4 hours of sexual tension between these characters. But also, Margaret wears this fantastic striped dress for this scene and I want it.

4. Our Mutual Friend (1998) 

Speaking of movies with layers...where do I even start with this one? I feel like I am riveted by a different plotline every time I watch. Sometimes it is the romance of Bella and John. Sometimes it is Eugene and Lizzy. Sometimes I can't get over how terrifying David Morrissey's performance is as Bradley Headstone (which is why I struggle to warm to him as Colonel Brandon in the new Sense and Sensibility adaptation), and sometimes I'm just in love with the bromance between bored lawyers Eugene Wrayburn and Mortimer Lightwood.

Best costume moment:

Mortimer Lightwood is the unappreciated heart of this film and his white tie evening look--complete with top hat, cane, and opera cape--is the best. Close runner up: his giant nightgown shirt, but THERE ARE NO PICTURES OF IT ON THE INTERNET.

5. Northanger Abbey (2007)

Tortured brooding is all well and good, but sometimes you want a male lead who is just plain fun. Henry Tilney is the anti-Darcy: great at parties, full of jokes, smirks, and smiles. This adaptation is delightful, short, and full of winks at the gothic romances that Jane Austen was parodying.

Best Costume Moment:

After Catherine meets Henry, she fantasizes about him fighting a duel in a disheveled white shirt and black greatcoat, while she looks on in a filmy nightgown. Hahahahaha YES GURL.

6. Wives and Daughters (1999)

This movie is sort of quietly wonderful, and sneaks up on you. There are so many period pieces that have "sweet," "perfect" characters that are cloying and dull, but somehow Molly Gibson manages to be compelling and strong while dealing with everyone else's crap and always doing the right thing. One word of (spoilery) caution: there is no kiss at the end and it feels deeply unsatisfying. Have the final scene of North & South cued up just in case you can't handle it.

Best Costume Moment:

This is a horrible screen grab, but apparently there aren't that many pictures on the internet of this amazing hairstyle with pearls literally dripping out of her hair. One thing that is fun about Wives and Daughters is that it is set in the 1830s, which is an era that doesn't translate well to our modern eye. The hairstyles are wacky and the dresses are fluffy and wide. Because we are supposed to like Molly, her costumes and hairstyles are subdued and simple. But for her terrible step-mother? Release the breaks on the 1830s crazytown express!

7. The Young Victoria (2009)

I saw this movie in the theaters. Afterward, someone asked me how it was. I thought about it for a moment and realized that I had no idea. It was so full of things I love that I felt sort of intoxicated by it and and I could't come up with any kind of objective assessment. This movie has 1) beautiful costumes and scenery 2) an empowering, female-centered story 3) history stuff and 4) a hot guy. I've now re-watched many, many times and it seems to hold up, so I'm going to declare that it is a good movie.

Best Costume Moment 

The fabric of this gown jumps out at me every time. Iridescent green with a woven pattern of blue circles. Also, everything that is going on next to her.

8. Cold Comfort Farm (1995)

How is it that so many people have not seen this movie? Maybe because if I describe the plot it sounds embarrassingly trite: Orphaned girl from the city moves in with her dreary farm relatives and brings joy into their lives. But it is based on a hilarious satirical book, and it is surprising and cynical and charming all at the same time. It also includes a performance by Ian McKellen which you will never forget.

Best Costume Moment 

Ugh, I think MOHAI has this hat.

9. Marie Antoinette (2006)

When people say they think the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice is superior to the 1995 version I have to take a breath and pretend that that is a valid opinion and not an invitation for me to give them a 20 minute rant about how they are WRONG WRONG WRONG. But if you tell me you hate this movie, I'll be chill about it. It isn't for everyone, but I keep coming back to it and really enjoying it.

This movie also brings me full circle from the journey that started with Pride and Prejudice. Soon after I began grad school at FIT I had a friend visit me who had just started law school. We were hanging around my apartment and she saw Marie Antoinette on my shelf and expressed interest in seeing it. We put it in, and since it is the kind of movie that is easy to talk over, we started chatting and I was telling her about stuff I was learning in school and pointing out costumes that were and weren't accurate. A few minutes in she started groaning about how stressful law school was and how she should be studying right now instead of having fun. I realized that this sort of did count as studying for me. And I felt pretty good about my life choices.

Best Costume Moment

How can I choose? This movie is all visual. The whole thing is a costume moment! But if I have to pick, it would be this ridiculous pink dress with feathers and a tricorn hat. It isn't accurate. It isn't practical. But I want it.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Boot Time

You know how back in olden times people didn't have TV or movies or the internet or basically any entertainment beyond knitting and using a stick to roll a hoop around?

These poor children never lived to see Bachelor in Paradise

And you think how on earth did they spend their time? What did they do with all of those empty, Netflix-less hours?

Well friends, I have discovered the answer. 

They spent those extra hours lacing up their shoes. 

Even this illustrator got exhausted and just did the laces halfway

Ok, so this may not be the most accurate depiction of history, but I spent some time unlacing and re-lacing some historic boots this week and it took forever

I'm at the tail end of the shoe project, and there are just a few things left to do. One of those things is putting proper stuffing in the shoes that are fragile or difficult. There are several pairs of tall lace-up or button-up boots that I've elected to do myself because they take patience and care--and for some reason I was under the illusion that those were qualities I possessed. 

It was just one shoe! How did the time just melt away?!?!

This was a pair where both of the shoes used to be laced like the one on the right. I had thought that maybe the laces were broken or the holes were ripped so they couldn't be laced properly, but after taking a careful look I realized that someone started and was then like I DON'T HAVE TIME FOR THIS and just wrapped the rest around in a big knot.  It is a beautiful thing when you connect with someone from the past and feel like you share a moment with them. I feel you, person who gave up on properly lacing these shoes. I share your pain, I will continue your work. We are one. 

Sunday, October 11, 2015

In All The Choirs

Remember a few weeks ago when I was experiencing a choir-based emotional meltdown?

Right. So after that there were auditions for other choirs at church and I wasn't too optimistic. You see, I'm a soprano, and in the choral world we're kind of a dime a dozen. Auditioning as a soprano often includes a bit of reality check.

So I was emotional because the choir I loved was ending, and because there seemed to be a real possibility that I wouldn't find a new choir home. During the audition the director asked about my experience in the Northwest Girlchoir and I got choked up.


I was in a fragile state. And in the emotional fog, I somehow got talked into being in TWO choirs.

Which more than doubles the weekly time commitment that my old low-key choir required. Last week I had two different two-hour rehearsals on weekday evenings, and then sang for two services on Sunday.

But so far I've really been enjoying it. It is a lot of choir, but I don't really have a lot of non-work hobbies. I love my job, and so most of my outside interests also relate to clothing and fashion and history. If you take that away, my only other activities are watching things on Netflix and having drinks with friends. Two awesome hobbies to be sure, but if other people can find time to do things like train for marathons or raise children, I can probably squeeze in a rehearsal or two between episodes of Miss Fisher.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

One Mannequin's Journey From Opera To Hip-Hop

Mannequins lead exciting, varied lives.

One day, you may be an opera goddess:

(With visions from across the museum reflecting gloriously off your case)

But then your fancy Freia costume has to go back to the Seattle Opera and you are left uncovered.

Back to being a blank slate!

But lo! Another exhibit approaches. You shall be transformed again! For this you'll need a head, a dark cover and some wider shoulders...

...some fuller arms and some width around the waist...

And you'll be cover-ready in your thrift shop glamour!

Surrounded on all sides by adoring, purple clad hands.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

It's Hip-Hop!

This weekend MOHAI opened a new exhibition The Legacy of Seattle Hip-Hop which will be up until May of 2016.  When the loans for the show started to come in, I and the exhibits team were surprised by how much clothing there was. Cool graffiti jackets, coats worn in music videos, and outfits from designers and fashion companies that have roots here. So for the last couple of weeks I have been working on various mounts and display ideas to try to show off the stuff in the best way possible.

One of my personal favorites is the over-the-top fox fur coat worn by Raz Simone in his music video "Hometown."

I realize that many people are super grossed out by fur but you can't deny that this is a statement piece. It is just so bold and unapologetic and in the video all the little tails are flying around as he moves. It is fashion that demands attention.

Oddly we have two big fur pieces in the exhibit, the other being this one from the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis "Thrift Shop" video.

This thing is MASSIVE and so cool in a totally nutty way. Giant shoulders, tiger stripes, and this big hood that looks like a lion's mane when it is pulled up.

Now, this may surprise you, but I am not an authority on the hip-hop scene in Seattle. I know. Shocking. You could have been fooled since the Seattle Times coverage of the exhibit prominently featured an image of me (on the plus side, I am totally adding "hand model" to my résumé) but this is mostly an area outside my expertise. For this reason I've been a bit anxious about getting everything right while doing the dressing. I've been having flashbacks to the Season 5 episode of Project Runway where the designers were asked to design clothes for each other based on musical genres. It ended up that this person:

Had to design a hip-hop outfit for this person:

...and the results were about as tragically white and you'd expect:

Kenley, who had gotten on just about everyone's last nerve at this point, ran around the workroom with her silk floral blouse and high waisted mom jeans proclaiming "Look guys! IT'S HIP-HOP"

At which point one of the other contestants deadpanned to the camera:

"We're not going to tell her. We're just going to let her think that's hip-hop."

Basically that scene would replay in my head every time I would set something up or someone would ask for my opinion. I'M DOING MY BEST BUT I AM KENLEY IN THIS SITUATION AND NO ONE SHOULD LISTEN TO MY IDEAS ABOUT WHAT HIP-HOP LOOKS LIKE.

Fortunately MOHAI was not off on some island planning this exhibit. We know the limitations of our own abilities, and wisely hired outside help to get it right. The guest curators we worked with are actually part of the hip-hop scene in Seattle and know what they are talking about. We also had a consultant who selected objects for the fashion section and did the final styling of the mannequins. I was so flattered every time she asked for my opinion. I just wanted to be like back up and look who you are talking to.

I can show you a cool trick with bridal tulle to fill out the pant legs, but tips on how to properly cuff them around the Timberlands is ON YOU.