Life as the textile expert at a regional history museum

Monday, May 30, 2016

Mannequins of Instagram

People: Hey Clara, what's new with you?

Me: Not much. Same old stuff.

People: How is work?

Me: Great, museum is great.

People: So...really, nothing new?

Me: Not really.

People: You sure?

Me: Oh well I got married and gave birth to triplets.

People: THAT'S AMA-

Me: No. That didn't happen.

People: ...

Me: Actually I did have one pretty life changing thing.

People: Tell me about it!

Me: I (sort of last minute) got a ticket to the Beyoncé concert at Centurylink and it was phenomenal. I still haven't recovered and not sure I ever will.  Here, let me show you some photos on my phone:

People: Yes, those are probably the best pictures I have ever seen.

Me: Oh! Actually one more thing. I joined Instagram! The first picture I posted was of the Beyoncé concert.

People: Obviously.

Me: But I think, going forward, I want to showcase my collection of museum mannequin pictures.

People: Fantastic. That is a much neglected niche on the internet. How do I follow you?

Me: Search for clevaberg (or click the photo above)

People: Cool. Have you joined Tinder yet?

Me: We're done here.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Close Encounters With Objects

Last weekend was amazing. First off, I had some fantastic musical experiences. I heard my Dad perform Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time, attended The Flying Dutchman at the Seattle Opera, and finally watched Lemonade. 

For me, experiencing Beyonce in Lemonade was not unlike attending the opera or listening to Messiaen. I was totally into it, but also keenly aware that there were layers of understanding that were beyond me. And that's ok. I understand houndstooth on a deeper level than most people so it goes both ways.


Anyway, in addition to the musical experiences I also gave three very successful "Behind the Seams" programs at the museum. These events grew out of the "garment viewings" I used to do after my annual fashion lectures. Basically it is just getting a group of people in a room and taking a closer look at some artifacts in the collection. Unlike an exhibit where you can only see a few sides of a garment, I can show interior construction and details that get lost when it is dressed on a mannequin.

What I love about the programs (and the ones last Saturday were particularly good on this score) is that they end up being really collaborative. Often there are people in attendance who have lifetimes of knowledge about vintage clothing or sewing and they can point out things that I might have missed. Many garments are altered over time, or have multiple parts that don't go together clearly, so there can be a lot to discuss. In the first session we had a lively debate about the alteration history of a three-piece Balenciaga ensemble. Was the skirt original? Was the top altered? Was that weird peplum made out of the old lining?

I take no responsibility for that embarrassing hemline

Usually historians are taught to use documents and photos as primary sources, but it is much less common to be taught how to "read" an artifact. I got some good instructions on how to do it in grad school, but I also recently got the book The Dress Detective: A Practical Guide to Object-Based Research in Fashion which does a great job of explaining it in simple steps.  Now I'm all inspired to do more of this kind of programming! History gets so much more exciting when it is presented as something to explore and discuss, than as indisputable facts.

Huh so this ended up being a very weird post. Not much snarkiness, no update on the fan inventory, AND NOT ONE GIF!

Ok well this seems all in order then.