Life as the textile expert at a regional history museum

Sunday, July 26, 2015

The 70s are Coming!

With the wonderful American Spirits exhibition entering its final month, the second offering of my 1920s fashion lecture coming up soon, and last weekend’s Bootlegger’s Bash, it is fair to say that MOHAI is in a Jazz Age mood.

But on Wednesday this week, all that is about to change. Take cover, because the 1970s are coming.

Ok, that is a bit of an exaggeration. There won’t be any programs or lectures or Cher impersonator performances, but there will be FASHION.

(What I would look like on Soul Train)

Remember last year when I was all excited about the opera costumes? Well, they are still up, looking amazing. But the loan period is coming to a close, and we need to put something else in that space. I had a few ideas for other loans to get but none of them worked out. Finally I was like “well, I’m always complaining about not getting enough of our own collection out...”

That case is in the section that tells the story of Seattle from the 1970s to the present. That isn't the most robust section of the artifact collection (it isn't old enough for people to think of donating items) but we still have some cool things.  So I set to work picking three looks which would represent 1970s style, be distinct from one another, look good on mannequins, and not clash horribly.  I am pretty excited about the result.

First up, in the center spot, is this pink chiffon gown and cape made for a DIVA.

Sold by John Doyle Bishop, of course.

On the left will be a hippie look. This is a mix of artifacts and props. The main artifact is the bell-bottom jeans, which were worn in Seattle 1968-1980 and modified over time with hand-sewn patches. I dressed it with two things authentic to the period, but not accessioned because they don’t have Seattle stories: A fringed leather vest someone gave me, and a peasant top my mom wore in the 70s. Hanging off the leather vest is the other artifact: an alligator clip “accessory” with strips of deerskin and beads, made by the donor of the jeans. The pinchy part is a little singed so I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about that.

When I was in grad school we were warned that it can be REALLY hard to make counterculture clothes look good on mannequins. The reason being that so much of the look is the attitude of the person inside. A Dior gown is designed to be an aesthetic experience and can still really sing on a mannequin, but a pair of ripped jeans and a T-shirt that once belonged to Kurt Cobain can look pretty lifeless on a form.  So I was particularly pleased with this dressing job, because I think it has lots of visual interest and can hold its own with the gown.

And finally: Menswear. And who better to represent the color and pattern of the 70s than my dearest John?

This is a knitted wool suit with a double-breasted jacket and leather cuffs on the pants, owned and donated by JDB himself. Because I couldn’t resist, I paired it with one of his signature scarves.  I was worried it was a little too much pattern, but then remembered that he wore one of his scarves with a plaid suit when he took Schiaparelli to the Bill Blass show in '72. (Also "too much" might not have been a thing in the 70s).

So do the hustle down to MOHAI and see them in person!

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