Many visitors to fashion exhibitions expect to see only garments in perfect condition that exemplify a theme, a time period, or a designer’s aesthetic. Yet this would contradict one of the most basic facts about clothing: that it is designed to be worn, and in some cases, has been worn out. By means of the expert work of a conservator, a gallery’s low lighting, or the strategic placement of a garment at a concealing angle, flaws are often cleverly obscured and left unmentioned. Clothing with traces of wear that cannot be ignored or disguised tends not to be exhibited.
Fashion Unraveled takes a different approach by examining the concepts of imperfection, incompletion, and memory in fashion. More than sixty objects, dating from the 18th century to the present, are organized into five themes. “Behind the Seams” provides anecdotes on a garment’s creation or the way it was worn. “Mended and Altered” focuses on the varied and sometimes imperceptible ways a garment was modified over its history, while “Repurposed” features clothing that has been entirely remade. “Unfinished” addresses garments that are incomplete, either by chance or by choice. Finally, “Distressed and Deconstructed” discusses the ways in which designers have consciously embraced an aesthetic of imperfection in their work. All of the featured objects question our preconceived notions of beauty and value in fashion, and shed light on the importance of the stories that can be told by the garments themselves.
Fashion Unraveled has been made possible thanks to the generosity of the Couture Council. The curator would also like to extend special thanks to Dr. Joyce F. Brown and the other participants in the Wearing Memories project for their contributions to this exhibition.
Colleen Hill, curator
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