Dress, Art, and Society
Historians look at the history of dress in many ways. Costume historians focus on details of construction and silhouette. Clothing as a form of non-verbal communication or sign language is the interest of semioticians and linguists. While most recently, social, cultural, and even economic historians have looked at how clothing provides insight into the everyday lives of people of the past. As this list indicates, dress, because it stands between the naked individual and the outside world, reflects our relationship to chat world in many different ways. Like other examples of material culture, clothing is a mirror of society.
This is the premise behind the way in which costume history is taught to the students of the Rhode Island School of Design. Lorraine Howes, Head of the Apparel Design Department, presents the history of costume in the context of changes in social, political, economic, and cultural history. In collaboration with Professor Howes, we have tried to do the same here and have exhibited costumes from the Museum's collection with contemporary painting, decorative arts, and works on paper. We have also included documentary evidence to show that, when combined with the traditional resources of historians, the study of dress can provide new and tangible links with the past.
The exhibition has been divided into a series of seven vignettes illustrating the changes in European and American dress, from a period when fashion was controlled by an aristocratic class, often for political reasons, to a period when couturiers, such as we know them today, ruled supreme. Each vignette is accompanied by a focused discussion on a particular aspect of culture during the period under discussion to provide a more in-depth look at the past.