Preservation Society of Newport County Costume Exhibit Traces Victorian Fashion

The Elms, one of the Newport Mansions of the Gilded Age © 2012 Karen Rubin/news-photos-features.com.

The Preservation Society of Newport County’s annual costume exhibition at Rosecliff (1902) this year features highlights from its collection of historic clothing, several of them never-before-displayed. The Victorian Wardrobe Revealed: 1840-1900 exemplifies the best of the Preservation Society’s collection—fine materials, expert craftsmanship, and a wealth of interesting stories about the societies in which they were created and worn. The exhibit is open through November 16.

Arranged chronologically, each garment reveals a story about fashion history and production. For example, visitors can trace the changes in women’s dress silhouettes through the 19th century, from the low shoulders and full skirts of the 1840s and ‘50s, to the nipped waists and bustles of the 1880s. Women achieved each of these shapes by a combination of the construction of their dress and an ever-changing array of undergarments beneath it. These understructures – including crinolines, hoop skirts, and corsets – existed well before the 19th century, but became integral components of the Victorian woman’s wardrobe.

The exhibition also traces developments in the way clothing was manufactured and purchased. In the early 1800s women often made their own clothing or commissioned it from a seamstress. Department stores emerged by the middle of the century, offering broad inventories of fashionable ready-made clothing at affordable prices. For the luxury consumer, the couture industry developed in Paris during the 1860s, with high-end workshops providing a glamorous alternative to small-scale local dressmakers. The textiles on display encompass the full spectrum of this progression, including skillfully handmade 1840s day dresses, a tea gown by the Providence dressmaker Jennie Carr, and capes from both the Liberty department store in London and the Parisian couturier P. Barrion.

Another highlight is a black and white striped gown by the couture house of Charles Frederick Worth, donated to the Preservation Society by Alice Brayton of Green Animals. It required over 300 hours of conservation work to prepare it for display. This gown is an excellent example of the bold fabrics used by high-end couturiers, and hints at the fashion-forwardness of women who patronized these designers. Other noteworthy examples include a simple Quaker dress handmade from a luxurious but understated brown silk, and a uniquely-draped example of Victorian mourning fashion.

Co-curated by Jessica Urick and Rebecca Kelly, the exhibit is on display in the Lesley Bogert Crawford costume galleries on the 2nd floor of Rosecliff, 548 Bellevue Avenue, Newport, through November 16. Admission to the exhibit is included with any Rosecliff tour ticket, including multi-house tickets. Rosecliff is open daily for tours from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through November 16, except when it is closed for the Newport Flower Show June 21-24. Newport Mansions tickets can be purchased online at www.NewportMansions.org, or in person at any Preservation Society property.

The Preservation Society of Newport County, Rhode Island is a non-profit organization accredited by the American Association of Museums and dedicated to preserving and interpreting the area’s historic architecture, landscapes and decorative arts. Its 11 historic properties—seven of them National Historic Landmarks—span more than 250 years of American architectural and social development.

The Breakers, The Elms, Marble House, Chateau-sur-Mer and Rosecliff are open daily. Plan your visit now.

For more travel features, visit:

www.travelwritersmagazine.com/TravelFeaturesSyndicate

www.examiner.com/eclectic-travel-in-national/karen-rubin

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