What People Wore When: A Display of Costumes from the Oregon Shakespeare Festival was on display at Curry Public Library from March 29-April 25, 2021. This is a virtual version of the exhibit for those who were unable to attend in person.
Thank you to the many people who made this exhibit possible, in particular Ron Cook for his vision for arts programming in Gold Beach and his support for funding from the Tammis Day Foundation, which granted funds to cover all exhibit costs.
Curator: Jordan Popoff
Costumes: The Oregon Shakespeare Festival
Publicity and Planning: Rebecca Marcus
Design: Jeremy Skinner
Fabrication: The Curry Public Library staff
By Jordan Popoff, Curry Public Library
I am an art appreciator who cannot draw a straight line. And I’m a fashion lover who cannot sew a stitch. You might say I enjoy being on the outside looking in. That’s because there is so much to see!
Although I separated fashion from art just now, I don’t think of them as apples and oranges. I believe fashion is the tangerine to art’s citrus. Fashion is wearable art, although most of us would choose not to wear much of it. As in the art world (My child could draw that!) there are critics of haute couture (Who would ever wear that?!). But no one can deny just as much effort and thought go into creating a Dior gown as went into Monet’s Waterlilies.
Not only is fashion an art form, it is also useful to understanding the larger concept of history. It is a visible representation of history: economic, political, technological, and cultural history. Because it is tangible, it cannot be hidden. Thanks to portraits and photographs, it is there for all to see and interpret.
Using fashion as an aid to studying Western history, we are both amused and bemused. We applaud and are outraged. We are delighted and disgusted. Whether fashion interests you or not, it cannot be denied that it is dynamic, vital, and relevant. It is a physical and necessary expression of our time and place. It is key to understanding ourselves and those who came before. Fashion is worth our time to study. Fashion is significant.
A Quick Guide to the Evolution of Western Fashion
Medieval: the birth of fashion+
As fabric technology advanced, clothing became more varied. After years of essentially the same look for everyone (two pieces of cloth sewn together into a tunic), clothing styles not only varied from person to person, male to female, rich to poor, they also changed from year to year. Hence, the birth of a totally new concept: ephemeral fashion.
Renaissance: the birth of the fashionista+
Portraitists could now more accurately detail their subjects, and with the new Age of Exploration, royal households could relatively quickly send their images around the world. The courtly fashions displayed influenced other peoples and other nations. Such luminaries like Queen Elizabeth I became in a very real sense an early fashionista.
Cavalier: the birth of grandeur+
Flourishes and boldness. Drama and exaggeration. Flamboyancy and grandeur. Royalty of this time wanted to assert their power and God-given authority using unmistakable methods, and this included how they dressed.
18th Century: the birth of comfort+
Courts became even more isolated from common people and so the commoners, completely alienated from their leaders, chose a different path. One of common sense: comfort. This was helped along by the widespread introduction of cotton to Western Europe. Men and women both adopted softer lines and less restricted accoutrements.
19th Century: the birth of the designer+
The first widely-recognized haute couturier was Charles Worth, an Englishman, who established his maison in Paris in 1858. Whereas before, a person commissioned clothing from a tailor or a dressmaker, the House of Worth created designs that bore its name. Royalty were no longer fashion authorities; that authority was ceded to designers.
20th Century: the birth of freedom+
For the first time, many people felt comfortable breaking away from designer-driven style and forming their own. Even the conformity-loving Fifties had its beats, hipsters, and teddy boys and girls. Baby-boomers injected youth into the prevailing culture which inspired designers to search all corners of society for fashion ideas.
Click the image to see larger display and caption.
MEDIEVAL GOLD-TRIMMED GOWN The high waist and long trailing sleeves indicate that this gown is in the style of fashion favored during the late Medieval period around the turn of the 15th century. The inconvenience of this style, along with the heavy headdresses worn during this time, prove the wearer rich enough to be idle.
MEDIEVAL TWEED DOUBLET AND TROUSERS The doublet started as a thick layer of lining (doubling) to be worn under armor. It gradually became outerwear. Trousers were generally worn only by Germans prior to late Renaissance, while the rest of European men preferred full-length hose. The coarse material suggests that this set was meant for outdoor work.
MEDIEVAL MEN'S SUEDE POULAINES Poulaines (otherwise known as crakows), with their extended toes, were a popular shoe choice for anyone from a cowherd to a nobleman in the 14th and 15th centuries. The toes would have been stuffed with wool or moss to retain their shape. This particular pair, with its gold braid trim, might have been worn with wooden platform overshoes called pattens to keep the leather shoes dry and out of the mud.
RENAISSANCE GOLD AND LAVENDER SILK DRESS Fashion flourished during the Renaissance. Regional designs marked differences in local dress and this empire-waisted, boat-necked, slash cut-sleeved gown demonstrates late 15th century Venetian influences. Garment-related technologies improved during this time, so silk such as this became more affordable, and gowns could be constructed using separate pieces of fabric, thus creating this layered look.
RENAISSANCE GOLD DOUBLET AND PUMPKIN BREECHES Global exploration and conquest influenced fashion for men in the late Renaissance. Bold men desired the broad shoulders and large chests that spoke to their robust masculinity. Short pumpkin breeches were worn with tight hose to better showcase manly-looking calves.
RENAISSANCE LEATHER CODPIECE When doublets shortened in the late 15th century, men had to find a way to close the gap at the top of their hose. The codpiece was born. Shortly thereafter, padding the codpiece became a popular way to highlight virility, and men continued wearing codpieces even after adopting breeches.
RENAISSANCE COLLAR RUFF Floral lace ruffs and pleated cartwheel ruffs were worn by European men and women starting in the 16th century with the ascendancy of Queen Elizabeth I, who influenced the sumptuous fashion of the time. What started as an exaggerated neckline of a shirt became a garment unto itself, and reached gigantic proportions by the 1630s.
CAVALIER BLACK SATIN GOWN The queen consort of King Charles I, Henrietta Maria, born to Maria de’ Medici and of the house of Bourbon, influenced the fashion trends for women throughout Europe. This satin gown with its rounded neckline, elbow-length sleeves, and abbreviated stomacher is indicative of the more relaxed styles after the rigidness of the late Elizabethan.
CAVALIER VELOUR DOUBLET AND BREECHES The term Cavalier refers to the supporters of Charles I, who was beheaded in 1649, and Charles II, who restored British monarchy after eleven years of Cromwell’s Puritan Commonwealth. This gorgeous, floral doublet and breeches combination would have felt at home in the opulence that so offended Oliver Cromwell. High, leather boots, preferably with decorative spurs, would have been worn over the white hosiery.
18TH CENTURY OPEN ROBE GOWN This open robe dress features a boned bodice covered with a ruffled, floral stomacher, and a pleated, open skirt over a silk petticoat. This style, including its ¾ length sleeves trimmed with lace, remained popular through much of the 18th century and fashion throughout the West was dictated by the French court of King Louis XV, who reigned from 1715-1774.
18TH CENTURY BLACK VELOUR SUIT This suit of high-collared frock coat and fall front breeches would have been made in a heavy silk velvet for winter wear. Starting around the turn of the 18th century, this combination, along with a shorter waistcoat, or vest, would be known as a suit, and could be adapted to fit court attire or country dress. The breeches were paired with long, silk hose worn just over the hemline.
18TH CENTURY COTTON PANIERS These cotton paniers would have been worn under the popular saque, or sack back, dress. This style of dress featured long fabric pleats running down the back from neck to floor. The paniers created a wide silhouette that was relatively flat at the front and back. Ultimately, this became the court fashion for aristocracy and paniers reached their widest in the middle of the century.
EARLY 19TH CENTURY EMPIRE-WAISTED WOOL GOWN The Regency style of this dress was named after the period of time the Prince Regent, the future King George IV, ruled in his father’s name, as King George III grew ever more insane. This gown with its empire waist, puff sleeves, deep neckline, and intricate embroidery would have been at home in the Assembly Rooms of an increasingly urban Britain.
EARLY 19TH CENTURY PINK SILK BONNET This poke bonnet would have been as useful for keeping the sun off fair complexions as it would for catching someone’s attention with its pleated brim, floral sprays, and wide satin necktie. By the 1830s, the brim of this type of bonnet extended (or poked out) so far from the wearer’s face, she could only have been seen from directly in front.
MID 19TH CENTURY SILK PLEATED GOWN In the early 1830s, hemlines exposed the ankle and foot, but by the end of the decade, they had returned to floor-length. This silk gown with its puff sleeves, wide V-neck bodice, and full circle skirt moves toward the more demure look of the mid-1800s. The bodice draws tightly across the chest and through the shoulders restricting movement. Petticoats of this time would be stiffened using horsehair, making the full ensemble a heavy burden to bear.
MID 19TH CENTURY HERRINGBONE WOOL SUIT These double-breasted tailcoat and fall-front, full-length trousers make one think of the fashion fop, Beau Brummel. This suit would have been worn with a bleached, starched linen shirt, simple vest, and extravagantly layered cravat, a refined take on English country wear. Some jackets of this styling would feature a padded chest to go along with the slim waist, thereby making the “pouter pigeon” silhouette.
LATE 19TH CENTURY HIGH-COLLARED BUSTLED GOWN The bustle came into prominence shortly after the American Civil War, in the latter half of the 1860s. By the time of this velvet and lace trimmed, jet beaded gown, the bustle was making its exit, around the late 1880s. The slight puff sleeves point toward the towering, leg-of-mutton creations of the 1890s. The red satin lining provides a hidden, yet elegant detail.
LATE 19TH CENTURY PLAID WOOL SUIT This fin de siècle suit with its high-buttoned, short-lapelled jacket and slim pants are indicative of increasing strictures in society. This suit would have been worn with a high-collared, starched white shirt (possibly one with an easy-care detachable collar). Tight waists and shoulders for men became de rigueur by the turn of the century and prompted a backlash in the form of the “hygienic dress reform movement.” This movement favored loose fitting knickerbockers with tight, high socks (to keep out drafts) and jackets with room for many warm layers.
LATE 19TH CENTURY BONED SILK CORSET This beautifully detailed undergarment is designed to resemble a “spoon busk” corset. This type of corset was shaped in the front with a spoon-shaped strip of metal that was narrow at the top (the bust line) and flared out and curved in at the bottom (the base of the abdomen), allowing for a smooth, flat fit for the bodice.
1910-1919 EMPIRE-WAISTED SILK EVENING GOWN A design movement known as Orientalism sprung up in the wake of the 1909 founding of the Ballets Russes (Russian Ballet) by Sergei Diaghilev. This company was known for its bright, exotic costumes and influenced many designers. The most well-known of these, Paul Poiret, created couture using Middle Eastern and Asian themes, and did away with S-bend, Gibson girl corsets. This early 1910s gown, with its peacock draping and brilliant colors, is an example of the movement.
1910-1919 TAN HERRINGBONE SUIT This sporty wool suit from around 1910 features a single- breasted, notched lapel jacket and buttoned knickerbockers. This suit, with a vest and flat cap, would have been used for any outdoor pursuit such as golfing or cycling. Knickerbockers came in many lengths, the most well-known being plus-fours, meaning the leg extended four inches beyond the knee. Many baseball players to this day have kept this unique look.
1910-1919 SAILOR-STYLE SWIMSUIT This theatrical swimsuit was designed more for show than swimming. While this puff-sleeved, circle-skirted suit with suspenders is made of cotton, many swimsuits of the era were made of lightweight wool. The quarter sleeves on this suit indicate the growing trend of revealing more skin, even outside. Black wool stockings and a bathing cap would complete this outfit.
1930s HALTER-TOP SILK EVENING GOWN Designer Madeleine Vionnet used draping and bias cutting to create gowns that followed women’s sinuous lines without any structured tailoring or even corsetry. She influenced many other designers of the 1930s with her Grecian-inspired creations. This halter-top, floor-length gown is reminiscent of Vionnet’s work with its bias, or diagonally, cut fabric, sashed neckline, and fluid design.
1930s WOOD PINSTRIPE SUIT Men were seeking sartorial elegance in the 1930s along with women. This suit displays the male ideal of broad shoulders and narrow waist, and is a good example of what was called the “London cut.” Its peaked-lapelled, double-breasted jacket and creased trousers helped men attain the desired sporty, masculine look.
1930s NETTED TEARDROP CROWN HAT Women’s hats of the 1930s tended to be on the smaller side as a nod to the austerity of the Great Depression. In addition, women’s hairstyles retained the cropped lengths begun in the twenties and tiny hats worn at a jaunty angle perfectly highlighted the popular Marcel permanent wave.
1960s SILVER STRAPLESS EVENING GOWN This gown is in a sense a throwback to the slinky eveningwear of the 1930s. After Christian Dior created The New Look in 1947, a wasp waist and accentuated, sometimes even padded, hips became the rage. But this gown is body-hugging, right up to its mermaid-style bottom. Strapless gowns had been popular since the 1950s, and ensured that bodices were highly structured and often shaped with boning.
1960s GRAY FLANNEL SUIT Men’s suiting of the early sixties changed little from the classic gray flannel suit of the 1950s, except for a slight narrowing of the legs and lapels, and came to represent the middle class office worker. This classic two-piece with its pleated, slim trousers and single-breasted, two-button jacket signals the move towards more mod, European styling.