Curator's Choice : Stars of the Historic Costume Collection

This collection of five pieces encompasses both formal and informal attire of men and women of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Children's clothing is featured in its most exquisite and refined form. Bespoke, event-specific women's understructures celebrate the union of two people in marriage, while bright and cheerful silks and calicoes illustrate that color and fancy may be achieved at either end of formality. These pieces bridge the collecting efforts of Susan Greene and the Strong National Museum of Play in an explosive display of history, color, and craftsmanship.

Selecting only five pieces from an expansive collection of objects can prove difficult. Visual brilliance, a connection to the Genesee Valley region, mysterious historical features, and a relationship to our modern way of life contributed to our selection process. These collection "stars" provide the modern viewer not only an engrossing historical narrative, but also a feast for the eyes.

The provenance of these pieces spans three centuries. We are transported to a time when clothing and textile making was largely a homespun industry, sitting in contrast to today's mass production "fast-fashion" economy. Our staff chose pieces that highlight the connection between fine artisan skill and the production of clothing, be them exquisite hand-painted silks or colorful cotton calicos, casual everyday wear or statement pieces worn for formal society occasions.The changing value of fabric, a palimpsest of humanity, reveals itself through these five garments and how they were used and re-used across decades.

An 1840s evening gown made from 18th century China silk. A gentleman's waistcoat of quilted calico diamonds. A hand-painted child's ensemble of plum silk. An 1860s corset, part of a wedding trousseau, and an early 20th century ombre gown of silk satin worn by the mother of a local celebrity. What will these pieces reveal to us about the past, about our own relationship to clothing, and where fashion may be leading us in the future?"

The Susan Greene Collection features a comprehensive array of outerwear, underwear, headwear, footwear, and accessories that help document the changing fashions and tastes for men, women, and children. Although there is some formal attire, the focus is on items worn by ordinary people in everyday situations; clothing that rarely survives. Most of the clothing dates between 1790 and 1890 and includes richly printed fabrics, a particular interest of Susan Greene. Rotating costume exhibitions and open costume storage are on view at the John L. Wehle Gallery at Genesee Country Village & Museum.

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Curator's Choice