Secrets of fashion revealed in new KSU Museum exhibit

Kelsey Drumm

The Kent State University Museum opened the “Inside Out: Revealing Clothing’s Hidden Secrets” exhibit on March 12, which emphasizes the fine details and impressive quality of eighteenth to twentieth century clothing.

Visitors can easily view the seams, linings, pockets and inward parts of the garments that usually remain hidden. The museum worked to find the best arrangements and positions for the clothing artifacts that still emphasize each garment’s inner structure, said Sara Hume, museum curator and assistant professor of Fashion Design and Merchandising.

Many of the garments appear simple on the outside, but the secret details inside the clothing illustrate the difficult work behind the creation, Hume said. Clothing designed between the eighteenth and twentieth century took about two weeks to finish. 

“One of things about these pieces is they’re all custom-made for a person,” Hume said. “So, all of the pieces would’ve been fitted for a specific individual. Nowadays, you go to the department store and buy something off the rack. We have clothes made by someone thousands of miles away, who will never meet us, and this clothing (in the exhibit) is all made by someone standing right there, who put it on you and pinned it together to make it fit perfectly.”

Jean Druesedow, director of the Kent State University Museum said the quality of the handwork is fascinating because sewing machines weren’t widely used when clothing of this time period was made.

The lengthy process of designing clothing in the past was not only time-consuming, but expensive too, Hume said. The customers who wore these pieces received quality clothing, which retailed at higher prices than what most Americans wear today. 

“In order for us to have ready-to-wear clothing, designers had to simplify patterns and how things were made,” said Catherine Leslie associate professor and graduate studies coordinator of Fashion Design and Merchandising. “The customer is used to being able to purchase lots of clothing. It takes more time, energy and money for someone to make something that’s designed to really fit with structure.”

The structure of modern clothing doesn’t mold to the human body like it once did. 

“We’re living in a T-shirt and jeans world, so the outside and inside of clothing looks the same. It’s not whole structure inside,” Leslie said. “Our clothing, for the most part, (is) ready to wear and made in massive numbers, and it’s quite disposable. You fit in a medium or an extra large, but you don’t know what it’s like to have something designed to your body.”

Almost all of the displayed garments came from the Kent State University Museum’s extensive clothing collection, The Western Historical Reserve Society also helped with the donations, Hume said.

The museum’s decision to create this exhibit came from a older Kent State University Museum blog post in which someone suggested they open an exhibit displaying the insides of garments.

Visitors can view the Inside Out exhibit in the Kent State University Museum’s Higbee Gallery Wednesday through Sunday during regular hours.

“Inside Out: Revealing Clothing’s Hidden Secrets” will close Feb. 14, 2016.

Contact Kelsey Drumm at [email protected].