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WHY WOMEN'S CLOTHING?
A CRITICAL HISTORY OF CLOTHING COLLECTIONS:
A REGIONAL CASE STUDY
STACEY ELIZABETH JONES
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF ARTS
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
Stacey Elizabeth Jones
This document is dedicated to my sister, Cheryl Corinne Jones.
First and foremost, I would like to thank my parents, William and Deborah Jones,
my brother Dan, and my sister Cheryl for their unconditional love and support. I would
also like to thank my committee members, Dr. Glenn Willumson, Dr. Melissa Hyde, and
Dr. Sheryl Kroen, for their guidance in the conception, development, and (very) gradual
completion of what began as a seemingly endless thesis project. Additionally, I owe
countless thanks to the following individuals, without whom this project would not have
been possible: Mary Jane Teeters-Eichacker, Traci Cromwell, Jeff Tenuth, Linda Badger,
Ron Richards, and Kathleen McLary at the Indiana State Museum; Dr. Susan J. Dickey;
Kelly Gallett-Richardson and Dr. Kate Rowold at the Elizabeth Sage Historic Costume
Collection; and Niloo Imami-Paydar, Maureen Tucker, Sherry Peglow, Vanessa
Burkhart, Rebekah Marshall, Sonia Borntrager, and Alba Fernandez-Keys at the
Indianapolis Museum of Art. Finally, I want to thank my friends, especially Nelia
Hoffman, Naomi Spier, Elizabeth Hamilton, Noelle Mecoli, Robert Josey, Mary
Margaret Carr, Laraine Evans, all of the Art Girls, Brad Perry, Alia Wilson, Kassia
Petersen, and the Meline family, for helping me to maintain both my sanity and sense of
humor over the course of the last three-odd years. Last but not least, I also must thank
(and apologize to) anyone whose name has been forgotten here.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A C K N O W L E D G M E N T S ................................................................................................. iv
ABSTRACT ............... ....................... ......... .............. vii
1 IN TR OD U CTION ............................................... .. ......................... ..
Methodology ................................... ..... ... ................ .......... 3
Women and Clothing: Associations and Relationships.................... ...............5
The H history of the Collecting of Clothing................................................................ 11
Why Women's Clothing?: A Regional Case Study..................................................19
2 THE HISTORIC CLOTHING COLLECTION AT THE INDIANA STATE
MUSEUM, INDIANAPOLIS..................... ....... ............................. 21
Background and History of the Collection...................................................... 21
W hy W om en 's C clothing? ........................................ ............................................24
Old Clothes and Their Stories............................ ....... ........................... 25
Women: Producers and Consumers of Clothing ............................................... 27
Women Donors and Historic Clothing at the Indiana State Museum ......................29
3 THE ELIZABETH SAGE HISTORIC COSTUME COLLECTION AT INDIANA
UNIVERSITY, BLOOMINGTON................... ....... ........................... 31
Background and History of the Collection.............. .......... ..............................31
W hy W om en's Clothing? ....................... ............................... 35
Elizabeth Sage: Teacher, Scholar, Collector ................................... .................36
4 COSTUME IN THE TEXTILE AND FASHION ARTS COLLECTION AT THE
INDIANAPOLIS MUSEUM OF ART ............................... .................... 41
Background and Institutional H istory..................................... ......... ............... 42
W hy W om en 's C clothing? ........................................ ............................................44
5 C O N C L U SIO N ......... .................................................................. ..... .... .. ..... .. 50
L IST O F R E F E R E N C E S ........................................................................ .. ....................53
B IO G R A PH IC A L SK E T C H ...................................................................... ..................57
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts
WHY WOMEN'S CLOTHING?
A CRITICAL HISTORY OF CLOTHING COLLECTIONS:
A REGIONAL CASE STUDY
Stacey Elizabeth Jones
Chair: Glenn Willumson
Major Department: Art and Art History
While the histories of the collecting of many of the objects traditionally collected
by museums are reasonably well documented, clothing is one area of collecting about
which comparatively little has been written. In fact, there exists a relative paucity of
scholarly literature on the subject, which seems striking if only for the fact that over the
course of the twentieth century, some of the largest museums in the United States, as well
as a number of universities and smaller museums, began to amass sizable collections of
Almost regardless of the institution in question, one trend that is immediately
discernable within the historic clothing collection at present is the ubiquitous presence of
women's apparel. This pattern is significant because it would seem to suggest that
traditional notions of "woman" are both reflected and reinforced in an institution that
purports to represent history accurately to the audiences for whom it holds objects in
Using a feminist approach, the study presents an analysis of the historic clothing
collections at three different institutions: the Indiana State Museum, the Elizabeth Sage
Historic Costume Collection at Indiana University, and the Indianapolis Museum of Art.
While this is a regional case study, the conclusions drawn regarding those historical
forces that have contributed to the composition of the historic clothing collections at each
institution and the effects that these compositions have on public perceptions of women
are applicable on a more general, i.e., national and international, level as well.
In each case, the reasons for the dominant or majority presence of women's apparel
and the ideological ramifications this has, both for the institution in question and
generally, are explored. In the case of the Indiana State Museum, a social history
museum, the dominance of women's clothing and accessories within the historic clothing
collection is linked to the relationships that women develop as a result of their roles as the
primary producers/consumers of clothing within the household unit. The analysis of the
Elizabeth Sage Historic Costume Collection demonstrates that the founding contributions
of Elizabeth Sage, the woman for whom the collection was named, constituted a
significant ideological impact that is manifested in the collection's shape and even in its
very existence, one that embodies the notion of consumption as something that is
distinctly feminine. Finally, an investigation of the historical reasons for which clothing
has been collected at the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the use of historic clothing and
fashion for exhibition within the museum provides insight into the limitations of
historical portrayals of women in the space of the art museum and the ways in which
these limitations can influence visitor perceptions of femininity, masculinity, and
women's (and men's) roles.
In James Clifford's The Predicament of Culture, the author states, "The categories
of the beautiful, the cultural, and the authentic have changed and are changing. Thus it is
important to resist the tendency of collections to be self-sufficient, to suppress their own
historical, economic, and political processes of production."1 While it is true that
contemporary institutions in the business of collecting-namely museums-may
recognize the first of these statements as self-evident in theory, as concerns the latter
statement, in practice this brand of awareness has certainly proved the exception rather
than the rule. However, it is for this reason that the passage is so provocative, for it
brings to light important questions in regard to the history of collections.2 Specifically,
what are the details of the history of collecting, and for what reasons were objects
collected (and collections amassed) in the past? On another level, Clifford's statements
also generate questions about those subjectivities inherent in the process of selection of
objects for collection.3 What assumptions underlie the choices that are made in regard to
the collecting of a certain type of object? What forces contribute to the shaping of the
modern museum collection? By viewing the collection as something that is necessarily
socially and culturally produced, as an organism that is imbued with a history that,
1 James Clifford, "On Collecting Art and Culture," The Predicament of Culture (Cambridge: Harvard UP,
2 1 am especially interested here in the collection on an institutional level.
3 It follows, of course, that the selection of objects for display also involves such subjectivities.
however masked or veiled, is nevertheless fundamental to its very existence, Clifford's
thesis promises to offer insight into the origins-indeed, the very nature-of the museum
While the histories of the collecting of fine and decorative art objects, natural
history specimens, books, antiquities, curiosities, and even trinkets are reasonably well
documented, clothing is one area of collecting about which little has been said and even
less has been written.4 In fact, there exists a relative paucity of scholarly literature on the
subject, which seems striking if only for the reason that some of the largest museums in
the United States have amassed sizable collections of historic clothing.5 Additionally,
many universities and smaller museums have compiled important historic clothing
collections as well.6
Almost regardless of the institution in question, and whether in Europe or the
United States, one trend that is immediately discernable within the historic clothing
collection at present is the ubiquitous presence of women's apparel. This pattern is of
4 The definition of "clothing" that I employ here is necessarily limited. Because there is evidence that
"exotic" clothing (i.e., that originating from non-Western locales) was collected with other such curiosities
relatively early within the general history of collecting, in this study use of the term will refer strictly to
5 The term "historic clothing" in this study refers specifically to fashionable clothing-i.e., an article of
clothing that represents a particular fashion or style dating from the period in which it was made and worn.
I should also note here that the terms "clothing," "costume," "apparel," and "fashions" are used
6 The focus of this study will center on American museums. However, the inclusion of data from similar
institutions in other Western countries, especially England and France, is illuminating, for many similarities
exist. Such information will be used when it is relevant to the topic at hand.
7 In his discussion of children's clothing collections, Thomas Schlereth states, "... many ... share the
same evidential biases that costume historians and curators bemoan for adult clothing: far fewer male
costumes than female ones." However, are these biases indeed "evidential," as Schlereth assumes? They
may be. However, within the small body of scholarship that currently exists in the area of historic clothing
collections, I would argue that these biases have not been thoroughly addressed. Thomas J. Schlereth,
Cultural History and Material Culture: Everyday Life, Landscapes, Museums (Ann Arbor: UMI Research
P, 1990) 93
particular interest if only for the fact that it would seem to both reflect and reinforce
traditional notions of "woman"-woman as possessing an innate propensity for "sartorial
decoration" (and clothing more generally), woman as consumer, and woman as
spectacle-in an institution that purports to represent history accurately for public
benefit, be it social history or art history.8 Hence, perhaps unwittingly, the museum may
be propagating some of the very notions it wishes to challenge.9
Within the context of the museum, the historical and art historical paradigms
traditionally employed in the study of objects are not conducive to the viewing of the
historic clothing collection as anything other than "self-sufficient."10 However, feminist
interventions in these disciplines have been particularly instructive in unmasking some of
the biases that are more often than not taken for granted or ignored entirely in the course
of museum practice. For example, Roszika Parker and Griselda Pollock's pioneering
tome Old Mistresses: Women, Art, and Ideology, particularly Chapter 2, "Crafty Women
and the Hierarchy of the Arts," is one attempt to expose and deconstruct the
8 Susan Vogel briefly discusses the ability of the museum collection to transmit values to the museum
audience: "The museum communicates values in the types of programs it chooses to present, in the
audiences it addresses ... in the selection of objects for acquisition. ... All tell the audience what to think
beyond what the museum ostensibly is teaching." Hence, exhibits are obviously not the only groups of
objects in the museum that communicate ideas and beliefs. Susan Vogel, "Always True to the Object, in
Our Fashion," Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display, ed. Ivan Karp and Steven
D. Lavine (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1991) 195. Quoted in Stephen Inglis, "Museums
and the Future of Craft, Decorative Art, and Design," Common Ground: Contemporary Craft. Architecture,
and the Decorative Arts, Canadian Centre for Folk Culture Studies Mercury Ser. 72 (Hull, Quebec:
Canadian Museum of Civilization; The Institute for Contemporary Canadian Craft, 1999) 140-43; 141.
9 I would argue that the museum indeed does perceive itself (and is perceived by others) as a space in which
commonly held ideas can (and should) be challenged. As Stephen Inglis points out in his essay "Museums
and the Future of Craft, Decorative Art, and Design," ". .. museums have become 'zones of contestation,'
sites of negotiation among administrators, scholars, politicians and communities. Museums are often at
the heart of post-moder and post-colonial cultural issues." Inglis 141.
10 Clifford 229.
differentiation in contemporary (non-feminist) art historical discourse between "high" art
and "craft," the latter of which is distinctively "feminine" (and consequently substandard)
expressly because its creators are usually women.11 According to Parker and Pollock,
"The sex of the artist matters. It conditions the way art is seen and discussed."12
What is so valuable about a study such as Parker and Pollock's is not so much its
content as its approach. Parker and Pollock employ a Marxist feminist approach in order
to critique the current composition of the art historical canon. A similar methodology can
be applied to the study of the museum collection, whose formation is susceptible to those
same forces that shape the art historical canon. However, the application of a strictly
Marxist feminist methodology requires that issues relating to class be addressed. Such
issues are certainly pertinent to the development of the collections discussed here, and the
need for further research in regard to class and its relation to and effect upon the
composition of historic clothing collections is acknowledged. However, such an
investigation falls outside the scope of this study, which is limited to questions regarding
gender specifically. Thus, a feminist, rather than a Marxist feminist, approach will be
used here to analyze the development of the composition of the historic costume
1 Roszika Parker and Griselda Pollock, "Crafty Women and the Hierarchy of the Arts," Old Mistresses:
Women. Art, and Ideology (New York: Pantheon Books, 1981) 50-51.
12 Parker and Pollock 50.
13 The type of museum or collecting body in which an historic clothing collection is housed does not restrict
the application of this theoretical framework. Regardless of whether the collection in question is contained
in an art museum or a history museum, the approach maintains its efficacy in that it enables the analysis of
social and cultural forces at work in history within each of them.
Women and Clothing: Associations and Relationships
What are the "historical, economic, and political processes of production" at work
in the formation of the historic clothing collection, and from whence can their origins be
traced? Historically, clothing, and "sartorial decoration" especially, has long been
associated (and, in fact, is often even equated) with the entity of "woman."14 This
identification was first marked by what J.C. Flugel has coined The Great Masculine
Renunciation. Male renunciation of "all the brighter, gayer, more elaborate, and more
varied forms of ornamentation" near the end of the eighteenth century signaled a
fundamental change in the ways that clothing and its adornments were viewed in relation
to gender.15 Flugel states, "Man abandoned his claim to be considered beautiful. He
henceforth aimed at being only useful."16 The author attributes this overhaul to the
democratic ideals of the French Revolution and the growing acceptance of work as a
man's most important activity.17 Enlightenment philosophy also plays a significant role
in his discussion of this Great Masculine Renunciation:
It is ... safe to say that, in sartorial matters, modern man has a far sterner and rigid
conscience than has modem woman, and that man's morality tends to find
expression in his clothes in a greater degree than is the case with woman. Hence, it
is not surprising that modern man's clothing abounds in features which
symbolise his devotion to the principles of duty, of renunciation, and of self-
14 According to Fliigel, sartorial decoration "consists in the embellishment of already existing garments."
J.C. Fliigel, The Psychology of Clothes, (London: The Hogarth P Ltd., 1966) 52.
15 Fliigel 110-111.
16 Fliigel 111.
1 Fliigel 111-112.
8 Fliigel 113.
the sex distinction has been greatly emphasized ... by the fact that men, not
content with a different type, have adopted a completely different style of dress to
that of women-a style which renounces all gaiety, exuberance, and beauty, which
aims only at correctness, and which permits of only the slowest and most gradual
modifications .... There is, in fact... a standard which demands of men a far more
austere morality than it demands of women.19
Passages such as these lay the foundations for Flugel's explanation of this Renunciation
as a cultural phenomenon in which women became the exclusive proprietors of "sartorial
decoration" (and, it would seem, a questionable morality).20 Additionally, Flugel notes,
the Great Masculine Renunciation is "one of the most remarkable events in the whole
history of dress, one under the influence of which we are still living.21
While Flugel locates the Great Masculine Renunciation in France in the latter half
of the eighteenth century, scholar David Kuchta argues that it "had its origins in an
aristocratic response to the increasing diffusion of fashion in the eighteenth century and
to the political culture that emerged after 1688 ..."22 According to Kuchta, this first
occurred in England, not in France, and took place immediately following the Glorious
Revolution of 1688. Additionally, Kuchta states that the renunciation "began ... with a
different class 'plain and uniform costume' was not inherently, timelessly, or
exclusively a middle-class ideal, but functioned as an aristocratic ideal as well."23
Kuchta's contribution puts the Great Masculine Renunciation in historical perspective,
19 Fligel 203.
20 Fliigel states, "Hitherto man had vied with woman in the splendour of his garments ... henceforward, to
the present day, woman was to enjoy the privilege of being the only possessor of beauty and magnificence,
even in the purely sartorial sense" (Fliigel 111).
21 Fliigel 111.
22 David Kuchta, "The Making of the Self-Made Man: Class, Clothing, and English Masculinity, 1688-
1832," The Sex of Things: Gender and Consumption in Historical Perspective, ed. Victoria de Grazia and
Ellen Furlough (Berkeley: U of California P, 1996) 56.
23 Kuchta 56.
and sheds light on the fact that class, and not gender alone, factors significantly into
considerations of people's associations to and with clothing.
The association of women with clothing did not stop with the decoration of their
garments. In fact, it seems likely that the sheer number of articles of clothing in a
woman's wardrobe also would have contributed to the idea that women had some
inherent connection to all things sartorial. Jennifer Jones notes, "On the eve of the
[French] Revolution, a typical male artisan might have possessed fifteen items of clothing
... whereas his wife might have possessed as many as fifty items."24 Thus, it is perhaps
not so surprising that a woman's identity was closely linked to the clothing in her
wardrobe. Additionally, Flugel's statement in the second passage cited above that men's
dress "permits of only the slowest and most gradual modifications" serves as evidence
that although changes in men's fashions certainly occurred, they did so at a much slower
rate than in women's fashions, making men's purchase of clothing far less frequent.25
Of course, the modern notion of woman as consumer is intimately connected to the
equation of women with clothing. Its origins can be traced to the second half of the
24 Daniel Roche, "L'6conomie des garde-robes A Paris, de Louis XIV A Louis XVI," Communications 46
(1987) 93-188; idem, The People of Paris (Berkeley: U of California P, 1987) 160-94. Cited in Jennifer
Jones, "Coquettes and Grisettes: Women Buying and Selling in Ancien R6gime Paris," The Sex of Things:
Gender and Consumption in Historical Perspective, ed. Victoria de Grazia and Ellen Furlough (Berkeley: U
of California P, 1996) 31. It is important to mention here that the growth in the "value, size, and variety" of
the wardrobe was not limited to the members of the elite classes. In fact, the opposite was true; the
wardrobes of almost all Parisians, with the exception of the very poor, grew considerably. Jones 30.
25 Fliigel also states, "As long as individuality is permitted, women struggle with one another for wearing
the 'latest' or most costly frocks," thus acknowledging the frequent changes in women's fashions. Fliigel
114. Critics might argue that if women's fashions did, in fact, change more rapidly than did men's, and
that if this necessitated the more frequent purchase of clothing, thus resulting in larger wardrobes for
women across the board in comparison to their male counterparts, then the prevalence of women's
garments in historic clothing collections is not an issue of great importance. However, the crux of the
argument presented here is rooted in the idea that the very notion that woman can be represented within the
museum collection in an accurate manner by clothing alone is inherently flawed. In other words, clothes
did-and do not-make the [whole] woman.
eighteenth century. In the 1770s and 1780s, women in Paris were venturing into public
for the first time to purchase, among other goods, clothing.26 This mode of the
consumption of clothing deviated substantially from that which prevailed during the
seventeenth century. At that time, the rich received tailors and dressmakers in their
homes, were fitted for garments accordingly, and then had the goods delivered directly to
them at their residences, while the poor acquired clothing by buying from traveling
merchants and vendors who dealt in second-hand apparel.27 However, in the late
eighteenth century, a "culture of shopping" was emerging "in the luxury districts of Paris,
a culture in which women played prominent roles as ... shoppers."28 Although this trend
was initially disquieting for many Parisians, several of the foremost critiques that were
used to discourage it during the late eighteenth century later facilitated its naturalization.
While Jones acknowledges "the construction in the later eighteenth century of a
conceptual framework that regarded the excessive desire to consume as a peculiarly
feminine quality, a weakness shared by all women," it is also true that shopping later
came to be regarded as a component role of femininity itself29 "For countess or shop
girl, the pursuit of fashion was acceptable if it took place within the proper confines of
26 Jones 33. In her essay "The Gendering of Consumer Practices in Nineteenth-Century France," Leora
Auslander states, "Many of these dynamics of the gendering of consumption ... were similar across
Europe and in the United States. But the gendering of consumption is, in many ways, a very French story."
(In The Sex of Things: Gender and Consumption in Historical Perspective, Victoria de Grazia and Ellen
Furlough, eds. (Berkeley: U of California P, 1996) 80.) For this reason, and because so much of the
literature on the subject of consumer culture begins with France (and Paris more specifically), I feel it is
appropriate to situate my discussion of the beginnings of the gendering of consumption in France.
27 Jones 31.
28 Jones 26.
29 Jones 27.
pleasing a husband or attracting legitimate suitors."30 Hence, it is evident that well before
the emergence of the department store, women were being branded as innate consumers,
and innate consumers of clothing at that.
As consumption became naturalized and woman's predilection for all things
sartorial came to be viewed as socially acceptable, the branding of woman as a consumer
of clothing became further embedded in the Western consciousness. Following the
Revolution, Jones posits, a new outlook on fashion prevailed. She cites a passage from
the Encyclopedie de la beauty as an example:
Clothes double the value of a woman. They augment men's pleasures and joys by
revealing women's charms. They are the natural complement of beauty; without
fashions a pretty woman is a diamond, but a diamond which is not mounted, and
who awaits an artist to give her a brilliant setting.31
Hence, clothing came to define the very essence of woman. A woman's clothing served
to complement the best of her individual qualities much in the way that a fine wallpaper
could accentuate the decorative nuances of a bourgeois salon.
Representations of this brand of "woman" also surfaced in nineteenth-century
literature, further reinforcing those stereotypes already in place. Earlier examples reflect
the anxieties that accompanied the advent of women as consumers. Gustave Flaubert's
portrayal of housewife Emma Bovary in his novel Madame Bovary (1857) is a classic
example. Emma, the angst-ridden wife of a country physician, is portrayed as the
prototypical female consumer: idle, frivolous, and easily seduced by the charms of Paris
and its inhabitants:
30 Jones 38.
31 A.C.D.S.A. [August Caron], Toilette des dames, ou Encyclop6die de la beauty (Paris: A.-G. Debray,
1806) 108. Quoted in Jones 38.
Paris, vaster than the ocean, glittered before Emma's eyes in a rosy light. The
teeming life of the tumultuous city was divided into parts, however, separated into
distinct scenes. She distinguished only two or three which overshadowed the
others and represented all mankind for her. The world of the ambassadors moved
across gleaming parquets, in drawing rooms paneled with mirrors, around oval
tables covered with gold-fringed velvet. It was a world of trailing gowns, profound
mysteries, and anguish concealed beneath smiles. ... As for the rest of the world, it
was lost to her; it had no specific location and scarcely seemed to exist at all. ... In
her longing she confused the pleasures of luxury with the joys of the heart, elegant
customs with refined feelings.32
Emma's fascination (or what might more appropriately be deemed obsession) with this
world leads her to reckless consumption. "A woman .. certainly had a right to indulge
in a few whims she sent for a blue cashmere dress from Rouen; she bought the finest
scarf in Lheureux's shop."33 Of course, Emma's buying frenzies are not limited to the
realm of clothing, and her character indulges in reckless behavior outside of her
consumption patterns. However, it is significant that because of her consumption, the
novel ends with the financial ruin of her husband, Charles, and her own dramatic, self-
induced death. The conclusion to the story reflects the unease people were experiencing
at the time in regard to women's increasing presence in the public sphere as consumers.
The nineteenth century witnessed the dawn of the department store, an institution
that was immediately taken up in the literature of the latter half of that century as a
context in which to position the woman as consumer. Appropriately entitled Au bonheur
des dames (The Ladies' Paradise), Emile Zola's 1883 novel explores, among other
32 Gustave Flaubert, Madame Bovary, trans. Lowell Bair, ed. and with an introduction by Leo Bersani
(1857; New York: Bantam Books, 1989) 50-51. In her ground-breaking text Dream Worlds: Mass
Consumption in Late Nineteenth-Century France, author Rosalind Williams notes, "The advent of the
consumer revolution in the French provinces was more gradual than in the cities but was still decisive."
Hence, despite the Bovaries' provincial residence, consumption was obviously not confined to the city
limits of Paris. Rosalind Williams, Dream Worlds: Mass Consumption in Late Nineteenth-Century France
(Berkeley: U of California P, 1982) 10-11.
3 Flaubert 108.
things, the marvels of the Parisian department store. Throughout the text, the masses of
women that flock to the store to partake of its fineries are portrayed within the frame of
the consuming woman:
There was a crowd .. groups of women pushing and squeezing, devouring the
finery with longing, covetous eyes .... And all that went on in an orderly manner,
with mechanical regularity, quite a nation of women passing through the force and
logic of this wonderful commercial machine.34
In her discussion of the stereotyping of women as consumers in the nineteenth century,
Rosalind Williams notes, "Women are the ones who crowd into department stores like
Au Bonheur des Dames, who urge their henpecked husbands to buy round furniture for
chic apartments, who gape at fashion displays in the expositions .. ."35 Hence, however
fictionalized, Zola's physical descriptions of the The Ladies' Paradise department store
clearly echo the realities of the time, making its subtitle of "A Realistic Novel" all too
Finally, the concept of woman as spectacle is significant for the purposes of this
study. As women physically ventured into the consumer realm, both they and the
[fashionable] clothing that they wore became the object of looking, of the gaze of others.
In fact, the very notion of woman as spectacle is integrally linked to fashionable clothing.
This constitutes an important association in the analysis presented here.
The History of the Collecting of Clothing
As this study hopes to demonstrate, these notions of "woman" are both reflected in
and have contributed significantly to the composition of the historic clothing collection
today. However, the reasons for this occurrence are located in the historical moment at
34 mile Zola, The Ladies' Paradise (1883; Berkeley: U of California P, 1992) 16-17.
35 Williams 308-9.
which the collecting of clothing began. As was previously mentioned, the history of the
collecting of other kinds of objects that are traditionally collected by museums are
addressed throughout the literature on the subject, but information about clothing is
conspicuously absent. According to Leora Auslander, although the French state had
begun to collect many different types of objects for institutions such as museums in the
later decades of the nineteenth century, clothing did not number among them.36 In fact,
Auslander describes clothing as being too ephemeral to be included in the category of
Domestic goods occupied a particular location in this nineteenth-century
bourgeois world of goods. Furniture, paintings, silverware, and rugs, unlike food
and clothing, were often intended to last at least one lifetime. The acquisition of an
objet d'art, even for the very rich, represented something different than the
purchase of a new spring suit. Clothing could be changed according to the social
occasion. One had, in contrast, only one living room in which to receive .... And,
no matter what one's income, furniture was almost always a major purchase and
was intended as an investment for use in the future as well as in the present.
Furthermore ... family histories were inscribed in the domestic objects.37
However, in her discussion of the frenzy for collecting that swept Paris in the nineteenth
century, Emily Apter cites a passage by Paul Bourget from 1895 that would seem to
suggest otherwise: "'In the windows of the department stores which boast the latest
novelties and which form a colossal resume of the habits of a people in anticipating their
desires, what do you encounter? The bibelot again, and again the bibelot .."'38 While
36 The French monarch had set taste standards in courtly circles throughout the country in the two centuries
preceding the Revolution. See Chapter 2, "The Closed World of Courtly Consumption," in Williams, 19-
57, esp. 20-21. In her discussion of nineteenth-century consumption patterns in France, Auslander states,
"By mid-century ... the state had resumed an intense interest in what its citizens bought and used and had
started to create institutions intended to improve consumers' taste. The first among these were the world's
fairs and exhibitions, which began in the 1850s and were followed by the new museums, libraries, and
schools of the 1880s and 1890s." Auslander 82.
7 Auslander 81-82.
38 Emily Apter, Feminizing the Fetish: Psychoanalysis and Narrative Obsession in Turn-of-the-Century
France (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1991) 60.
it is true that bibelots must certainly have populated the windows of the great department
stores of the time, we also know that they were inhabited by grand displays of clothing,
of fashion. The following passage from Emile Zola's The Ladies' Paradise is telling in
But just as she was entering the street, Denise was attracted by a window in which
ladies' dresses were displayed the dresses were in this sort of chapel raised to
the worship of women's beauty and grace. Occupying the centre was a magnificent
article, a velvet mantle, trimmed with silver fox; on one side a silk cape lined with
miniver, on the other a cloth cloak edged with cocks' plumes; and last of all, opera
cloaks in white cashmere and white silk trimmed with swansdown or chenille.
There was something for all tastes, from the opera cloaks at twenty-nine francs to
the velvet mantle marked up at eighteen hundred.39
Based on this excerpt, it does not seem unreasonable to assume that individuals were
collecting clothing in addition to other kinds of objects, even if the state or its museums
were not. Nonetheless, evidence such as this comprises the exception rather than the
The origins of the history of the clothing collection can actually be traced to a
particular juncture in the history of the museum. Carol Duncan defines this period in
American history as "an interesting moment, culminating in the 1920s, but continuing
into later decades, when art museums, far from maintaining an aloofness from industry,
sought relations with it."40 In his landmark essay "Museums, Merchandising, and
Popular Taste: The Struggle for Influence," historian Neil Harris notes that during the late
nineteenth century, "Besides the museum, there were two other settings where objects
were exhibited in great number and variety, and which had strong connections with
39 Zola 7-8.
40 Carol Duncan, "Museums and Department Stores: Close Encounters," High-Pop: Making Culture into
Popular Entertainment, ed. Jim Collins (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers Inc., 2002) 130.
public knowledgeability."41 Harris cites these as the World's Fair, or Great Exposition,
and the department store.42 In agreement with Harris's claim, Duncan goes on to claim
that these three institutions were
components of a single development that was as much economic as it was cultural.
... Through their display of objects, all three promoted the culture of consumerism
and stimulated and/or facilitated markets for manufactured goods. Above all, they
introduced notions of good taste to a broad, middle-class public, and taught the
pleasures of spending rather than saving unused purchasing power.43
The clothing industry played a significant role in the market of late nineteenth- and
early twentieth-century America.44 Along with other mass-produced goods, clothing
would have been accumulated and displayed not only in department stores and at the
World's Fairs but in museums (and especially museums of decorative arts) as well.
Clothing was certainly part of the Great Expositions; its presence at those events has been
well-documented. Thomas Schlereth notes that machine-made shoes, bone corsets, and
ready-made clothes were among the items exhibited at the 1876 Centennial Exposition in
Philadelphia.45 Additionally, at the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago, "Electricity
illuminated miles of consumer-goods displays in the forty-four acre Manufacturers and
41 Neil Harris, "Museums, Merchandising, and Popular Taste," Material Culture and the Study of American
Life (New York: W. W. Norton, 1978) 140-74. Repr. in Cultural Excursions: Marketing Appetites and
Cultural Tastes in Modem America (Chicago: The U of Chicago P, 1990) 58.
42 Harris 58, 63.
43 Duncan 130-31.
44 In her discussion of the historic clothing collection in British and Scottish museums, Naomi Tarrant
states, "Modem dress is part of a major industry ... Cloth production, or the raw materials for its
manufacture, have been the staple of most of the European economies at some time. It was also the main
motivator behind the technical innovations which led to the industrial revolutions of the medieval period
and of the eighteenth century. .... The health of the industry in any modem society should be of interest to
politicians and economists because of the widespread effect that it has on a country's economy." Naomi
Tarrant, The Development of Costume (London: Routledge; Edinburgh: National Museums of Scotland,
45 Schlereth 274.
Liberal Arts Building, the largest department store the world had ever seen."46 Clothing,
of course, numbered among the wares shown that year as well.47
An "energetic new breed" of museum professionals in the early twentieth century
grasped onto the idea that "The museum and its collections ... may be made
superlativelyy useful,' especially by proving 'of value to American industry."'48 Figures
such as the influential museum promoter George Brown Goode (1851-1896) adapted new
techniques of accumulation and display from expositions and department stores alike.49
Stewart Culin (1858-1929), the first curator of the ethnological collection at the Brooklyn
Museum, believed that industry could be applied to the context of the museum in order to
put American museums ahead of their European counterparts.50 Likewise, John Cotton
Dana (1856-1929), director of the Newark Museum from its founding in 1909 until his
death, was especially interested in the possibilities that the melding of the museum and
modern industry offered. Dana took an experimental approach to the museum and asked,
"'What kind of museum best serves the needs of a modern, industrial city?"'51 To attract
investors, Dana emphasized the potential of the museum to stimulate commerce in the
46 Schlereth 283.
47 In her discussion of the significance of the universal exposition of 1900 in Paris, Rosalind Williams
notes, "... wax figurines modeling the latest fashions were displayed in glass cages under brilliant lights, a
sight which attracted hordes of female spectators." Williams 87.
48 Stewart Culin quoted in Simon J. Bronner, "Object Lessons: The Work of Ethnological Museums and
Collections," Consuming Visions: Accumulation and Display of Goods in America 1880-1920, ed. Simon
J. Bronner (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1989) 217-254; 219.
49 Bronner 222-23. The concept of accumulation would seem to be especially important in regard to the
development of collections at a time when museums were still relatively young. "The rising importance of
museums ... was a reflection of the growing importance of things and their accumulation" (Bronner 250).
50 Bronner 236.
51 Duncan 133, 135.
city and "psychologically prepare the population for its role as workers and consumers in
the industrial society of the future."52
The advent of the First and Second World Wars also facilitated the development of
a partnership between museums and industry. This was especially important in regard to
the clothing and fashion industry, because in both instances, the war thwarted "the steady
flow of style ideas from France to this country."53 In response to the advent of the
American fashion design industry in the late 1940s, the director of the Metropolitan
Museum of Art, Francis Taylor, asked, "'What can we do for the great industries of
apparel and fabrics in this city?" Soon after, the Met made moves to make available
particular clothing-related resources and develop events exclusively for industry
employees.54 It also put on "Exhibition after exhibition ... to show not only what the
museum's resources are, but what leading designers can do with such material and such
facilities as the museum has to offer."55 M. D. C. Crawford notes that museum
collections with holdings in the areas of clothing and fashion contained documents such
as books and magazines as well as "complete costumes and accessories."56 The
collections were opened to designers from any number of clothing-related industries-
representatives from the industries of dresses, embroidery and laces, children's clothes,
52 Duncan 141.
53 M.D.C. Crawford, The Ways of Fashion (New York: Fairchild Publishing Co., 1948) 273. Bronner
notes, "Interest in American designs and American things contributed to reliance on museum collections ..
. as did restrictions on European goods because of World War I" (Bronner 224).
54 Crawford 275.
55 Crawford 276.
56 Crawford 277, 283.
and accessories such as belts and buttons-were all noted by Crawford as having used
museum collections "constantly and freely."
Two events that took place in New York City between 1935 and 1945 mark the
first real indications that clothing was being collected at an institutional level. In the
middle of the decade, the Fairchild Fashion Library, a library oriented towards research
in the industry, was opened. It contained thousands of books, magazines, and sketches
that illustrated historic clothing and contemporary fashions as well as beadwork and
embroidery samples. It was open only to members of the clothing and fabric industries,
and was "in the nature of a trade laboratory and has been widely used."58 Likewise,
the Museum of Costume Art, opened in 1937, contained a collection of costume-related
documents as well as several thousand complete costumes and accessories. As a
laboratory museum, it too was visited for study by both students and professional
However, other data seems to indicate that historic clothing collections had been in
existence for some time prior to these events. For example, Crawford's statement that the
Museum of Costume Art was "already old as an idea" at the time of its opening suggests
that the idea of the institutional clothing collection was not revolutionary in 1937. It is
notable that a good portion of this institution's costume collection was given by an
individual by the name of Lee Simonson.60 Hence, perhaps the early twentieth century
marked the first movements of historic clothing collections from individuals to
57 Crawford 278.
58 Crawford 281-82.
59 Crawford 282-83.
60 Crawford 282.
institutions such as museums. Additionally, Crawford mentions the "specialized
collections" of the Museum of the City of New York and the New-York Historical
Society.61 He does not say whether these collections actually contained historic clothing
or not, but the Museum of the City of New York today holds one of the most important
historic clothing collections in the United States, which would suggest that these
institutions were collecting clothing prior to the middle of the twentieth century. Finally,
in his discussion of clothing and textile collections in American museums, Crawford
states, ". .. the Smithsonian Museum ... has among many other treasures a collection of
the costumes of the presidents' wives and also a vast amount of material on every
period of our national life and culture."62 Again, exactly what kinds of objects are
included in that "vast amount of material" remains a bit elusive, but it seems logical to
hypothesize that the Smithsonian was indeed in the business of collecting historic
clothing in those decades preceding the middle of the twentieth century.
Thus, it seems that clothing collections in American museums were originally
founded with the intentions of blending the interests of the museum and industry,
sometimes for the purposes of propagating a nationalistic agenda; however, as is evident
here, sufficient research has not yet been conducted in regard to the origins of the historic
clothing collection. While a comprehensive investigation of these origins falls outside
the scope of this study, the case studies presented here provide a starting point for such an
61 Crawford 279.
62 Crawford 280.
Why Women's Clothing?: A Regional Case Study
The prominence-indeed, the very existence-of historic clothing collections gives
new urgency to the development of a critical history of the collecting of clothing.
However, the focus of this essay is not the lack of information available in the literature
but rather what I hope will constitute the beginnings of such a history. Locating the
origins of the history of the clothing collection in American museums in the twentieth
century expedites the unearthing of some of the preconceptions that have contributed to
its composition today and contributes to an understanding of the ideological work that is
performed by collections as a result.
This study involves the analysis of the historic clothing collections at three
different collecting institutions in the United States, and in Indiana specifically: the
Indiana State Museum, the Elizabeth Sage Historic Costume Collection at Indiana
University, and the Indianapolis Museum of Art. While these institutions are all located
in Indiana, the conclusions drawn regarding the historical forces that have contributed to
the compositions of each and the effects that these compositions have on public
perceptions of women are applicable on a more general, i.e., national and international,
level as well. In other words, although this is a regional case study, it is meant to serve as
an example from which conclusions can be drawn and concepts applied.
In each case, I attempt to explore the reasons for the dominant or majority presence
of women's apparel and the ideological ramifications this has, both for the institution in
question and on a more general level. In the case of the Indiana State Museum, a social
history museum, the dominance of women's clothing and accessories within the historic
clothing collection is linked to the relationships that women develop as a result of their
roles as the primary producers/consumers of clothing within the household unit. My
analysis of the Elizabeth Sage Historic Costume Collection demonstrates that the
founding contributions of Elizabeth Sage, the woman for whom the collection was
named, constituted a significant ideological impact that is manifested in the collection's
shape and even in its very existence. Finally, an investigation of the historical reasons for
which clothing has been collected at the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the use of
historic clothing and fashion for exhibition within the museum provides insight into the
limitations of historical portrayals of women in the space of the art museum and the ways
in which these limitations influence viewer perceptions of women's (and men's) roles.
THE HISTORIC CLOTHING COLLECTION AT
THE INDIANA STATE MUSEUM, INDIANAPOLIS
The historic clothing collection at the Indiana State Museum (ISM) is generally
regarded as a social history collection. As such, emphasis is placed on "provenance and
context rather than on designers."' It seems logical to assume that a clothing collection
dedicated exclusively to designer fashions would necessarily be comprised at least
primarily of women's clothing, and at face value, the focus of the clothing collection at
the ISM seems much less limiting-i.e., it does not preclude the inclusion of men's and
children's clothing in addition to women's. Nonetheless, women's clothing and
accessories together make up the majority of this collection.2 I will argue here that this
occurrence stems from the roles that women have historically played in the production
and consumption of clothing and the relationships that they develop with clothing as a
Background and History of the Collection
The Indiana State Museum is a large public museum that "preserves, interprets and
presents material evidence of Indiana's cultural and natural history in a context that
encourages people to actively participate in discovering their world-as it was, as it is
and as it can be."3 The museum's collections are comprised of approximately 300,000
1 Mary Jane Teeters-Eichacker, Curator of Social History, personal interview, 18 October 2004.
2 Teeters-Eichacker estimates that women's clothing and accessories together constitute 75-80% of the
historic clothing collection. Personal interview, 18 October 2004.
3 "Mission statement," Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites, 2003.
objects in two different departments, natural and cultural history. Natural history
collections consist of rocks, minerals, fossils, molluscs, Ice Age mammals, prehistoric
and historic Native American collections, mammals, birds, fishes, and other smaller
collections, while cultural history collections include furniture, popular culture, textiles,
costumes, metals, fine arts, politics, documents and other groupings.
The historic clothing collection at the Indiana State Museum includes items that
are: "1. handmade (couture or homemade); 2. commercially [sic] mass produced; 3. worn
by a significant person or group; 4. associated with a significant place or event; 5.
associated with occupation and everyday life."4 The collection aims to "represent the
customs, mores, and social practices of Hoosiers of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds,"
and primary emphasis is placed on "objects that document expectations and
opportunities in the areas of home life; work experiences; gender and group identity;
social change; consumption patterns; and leisure activities that reflect the changing
makeup of Indiana."5 The collection presently consists of approximately 10,000 items.
These are broken down as follows: clothing accessories, 2,198; footwear, 848; headwear,
1538; outerwear, 4,548; and underwear, 779.6 The collection contains women's, men's,
4 Section II.B.4, "Costumes," Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites Collection Management Policy,
5 "Social History," Collections Management Policy, Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites, 2003: 10-11.
6 Figures from the computer collections database employed by the museum, MultiMIMSY 2000, provided
by Traci Cromwell, Cultural History Collections Manager, Indiana State Museum. Items are grouped in
the database according to The Revised Nomenclature for Museum Cataloguing: A Revised and Expanded
Version of Robert G. Chenhall's System for Classifying Manmade Objects, by James R. Blackaby and
Patricia Greeno (Walnut Creek, CA; London: AltaMira Press and the American Association for State and
Local History, 1995). The figures given here total 9,911; however, both Ms. Cromwell and Teeters-
Eichacker, Curator of Social History and the primary curator of the costume collection, believe that the
actual total is probably closer to between 11,000 and 12,000 objects. They attribute inaccuracies in figures
obtained via database searches primarily to nomenclature errors during the data entry (cataloguing) process
and also note that at the time the research for this study was being conducted, between 800 and 1000
objects (not including accessories of any kind) had yet to be unpacked and entered into the database.
and children's costumes and accessories, sports and military uniforms, and Amish
clothing and accessories. However, as has been previously noted, women's clothing and
accessories, including blouses, skirts, suits, wedding dresses, formal gowns (couture),
prom dresses, cocktail dresses, house dresses, shoes, hats, bags, jewelry, and paisley
shawls, constitute the majority of the collection.
According to David McLary, who worked at the museum from 1967 to 1986, there
were very few clothing pieces in the collection when the museum was moved from the
basement of the Statehouse to its new location in the former Indianapolis City Hall
building in 1966.7 While early records suggest that the museum was accepting clothing
for its collections as early as 1919, clothes accounted for a minute percentage of the total
collection, and donations containing clothing items occurred at such infrequent intervals
as to have been almost inconsequential.
It seems the museum first began to actively solicit clothing donations in January of
1971. In a letter to the museum dated January 30, 1971, one Mary Louise Bone of
Lafayette, Indiana writes, "Dear Sir,-I heard on a TV program yesterday that you would
like old clothes for your museum ."8 This document constitutes the earliest available
evidence that the museum wished to begin collecting historic garments in some quantity
and had commenced efforts to do so.
The museum's holdings in historic clothing items grew steadily throughout the
1970s, but the appointment in 1983 of Lee Scott Theisen as Director of the museum
marked the beginning of a period of unprecedented and uncapped growth for what was
SKathleen McLary, Vice President of Programs, personal interviews, 18 August 2003 and 15 March 2004.
8 From the donor file labeled "Bone, Mary Louise," accession 71.971.30.
quickly becoming a bona fide historic clothing collection. Dr. Susan Dickey, Curator of
Collections at the museum from 1981 to 1984 and Curator of Costumes and Textiles from
1984 to 1988, notes that Theisen "encouraged more aggressive collecting through
donation and purchase. His approach to accepting donations was 'Take everything. The
donor might give you better stuff later.' (. .) His successor, Dick Gantz, was of the same
opinion, i.e., accept just about everything."9
Such an approach to collecting can account for the large number of clothing items
amassed by the museum in the 1980s, but it does not explain why the overwhelming
majority of them were women's. The prevalence of women's clothing items in the
collection can hardly be passed off as coincidence, since, as has already been noted, most
historic clothing collections exhibit a similar imbalance. While it is true that historically,
women have owned more articles of clothing than their male counterparts, most clothing
collections do not even begin to reflect an accurate gender-to-clothes-owned ratio, and
the collection at the Indiana State Museum is no exception.10
Why Women's Clothing?
As noted in Chapter 1, Schlereth claims that "evidential biases" have contributed to
this disparity historically.11 Relying solely on this claim, it seems logical that unevenness
9 Susan J. Dickey, personal interview, 22 Nov 2003. In my interview with her, Dr. Dickey mentioned that
Director Theisen was able "to obtain larger appropriations" for the museum. While she did not say to what
extent these increased appropriations affected purchasing funds for the historic clothing collection (if they
did at all), because the museum has traditionally relied on the physical donation of items rather than on
purchasing funds for building its collections (and especially the historic costume collection), this chapter
focuses on donations alone.
10 "Gender-to-clothes-owned ratio" refers to the correlation between gender (male/female) and the number
of clothing items typically owned by a person of one or the other gender. Of course, as has already been
noted, women traditionally own more articles of clothing than do men.
1 In his discussion of children's clothing collections, Thomas Schlereth states, "... many ... share the
same evidential biases that costume historians and curators bemoan for adult clothing: far fewer male
costumes than female ones" (Schlereth 93).
in the composition of historic clothing collections could be attributed to a brand of male
bias operating in their formation and development. Certainly, this is not an unreasonable
conclusion, given that the bulk of museum employees, even up until very recently, were
men, and that commonly held notions of women-that they are consumers (and
especially of clothing and fashion), are thought of as possessing an innate propensity for
sartorial decoration (and a love of clothing generally), and are defined by what they
wear-would all seem to favor an imbalance in terms of gender representation within
historic clothing collections. However, while the importance of these factors cannot be
underestimated, to credit them as being solely responsible for the shaping of historic
clothing collections with respect to gender representation would be to ignore other,
equally important social and historical processes of production at work in their
development.12 In fact, I will argue here that there are other forces that contribute
significantly to, and can account in large part for, the fact that the historic clothing
collection at the Indiana State Museum is composed mostly of women's attire-
specifically, the relationships that women develop with their clothing as a result of
traditional female roles and functions within the household unit.
Old Clothes and Their Stories
The museum did not adopt a collections management policy until 1991, at which
time individual departments and collections and their respective collecting strategies were
defined.13 As a result, between 1967 and 1991, the museum's collections grew rapidly
and without any real direction. As has been previously noted, the prevailing collecting
12 Clifford 229.
13 The official title of the policy is Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites Collection Management Policy.
This policy was revised and updated in the 2003 version, Collections Management Policy, Indiana State
Museum and Historic Sites.
strategy consisted of the museum essentially accepting any and all donations that it was
offered. However, Dr. Dickey notes that although she does not recall there having been a
written collections policy, several criteria were loosely employed in the selection process:
items made or manufactured in Indiana; items made elsewhere, but representative of
those used in Indiana and having an Indiana provenance; and items associated with
In addition to the requirement of an association with Indiana, all of these criteria
have another common feature: each of them requires that the object in question be
accompanied by a story, a history. Of course, the story of any article of clothing, be it a
dress or a pair of trousers, does not (and cannot) in and of itself explain why an historic
clothing collection is composed primarily of women's attire. But an examination of the
mechanisms by which clothing items have been donated to the Indiana State Museum in
the past gives indications as to how the histories of individual objects can contribute to
The museum first announced that it was interested in acquiring "old clothes" for its
collection via a public television program in 1971. In investigating the intricacies of the
processes that precede a donation to a museum, specifically a donation of"old clothes,"
two primary avenues of inquiry arise. First of all, who had these old clothes? And
second, why did they have them?
The answer to the first question is obvious. Who had old clothes? Women did.
But why they had them is perhaps not so apparent. Why did women keep old clothes,
and what clothes did they keep? The answers to these questions find their roots in the
14 Susan J. Dickey, personal interview, 22 Nov 2003.
roles that women-specifically, women in the roles of wife/mother in a nuclear family
setting-have historically played in the production and consumption of clothing within
the household unit.
Women: Producers and Consumers of Clothing
Before the advent of mass clothing production, women were the primary producers
of clothing for the members of the household unit. Later, in the decades spanning the
middle of the twentieth century, and especially in the 1950s, buying mass-produced
clothing at large department and discount stores became the principal method of
acquiring new apparel in middle- and upper-class households. Women once again played
a pivotal role, this time as the chief consumers of clothing for the domestic unit. They
thus possessed an intimate knowledge not only of what clothing was made or bought but
also for what purposes and occasions it would be worn, or why it needed to be made or
bought. Furthermore, in both scenarios, women would have been making and shopping
for clothes not only for other family members but for themselves as well, thus
establishing a relationship to their clothing that was unique to them and that was
intimately tied to their functions as producers/consumers of clothing.
Additionally, coupled with the fact that the sheer volume of garments and
accoutrements that most women owned far outnumbered those of any of their immediate
family members, for many women-especially those who did not work outside of the
home-clothing also served as an outlet for the display of personal tastes, acted as the
most immediately recognizable symbol of membership in a socioeconomic class, and
allowed one woman to distinguish herself from the next. Hence, not only did women
invest a significant amount of time making or selecting for purchase their own clothing,
they also had a deep social investment in the clothing that they wore. In other words, for
women, clothing's social function was closely interwoven with its practical functions:
clothes, perhaps more than any other personal belonging, had the ability to define the
woman that wore them. One need only recall images of iconic 1950s housewives such as
Donna Stone of The Donna Reed Show (1958-1966) or June Cleaver of Leave it to
Beaver (1957-1963) to comprehend the fundamental roles that clothing and appearance
played in shaping a woman's identity.
These investments affected the attitudes and feelings that women had toward their
clothing and consequently how they might have treated it. The amount of time, energy,
and thought a woman spent in making a garment or in selecting an article of clothing for
purchase, or how much she paid for it, likely had an effect on how expendable she
viewed any given item as being. Likewise, clothing's social function made it that much
more valuable (and less dispensable as a result). Therefore, women were much more
reluctant to part with clothing items than other members of their households would have
been, even if an item was no longer being used.
Additionally, many women kept clothing that was worn at an important event in
their lives or in the lives of their older female relatives (mothers, grandmothers, or aunts,
for example). Because of the social function that clothing served in women's everyday
lives, it makes sense that clothing worn during significant occasions in the life of the
wearer-a prom or a wedding, for example-would have been set apart from the rest of
the wardrobe as unique or distinctive, hence causing the wearer to feel that it was
important to care for and keep the item (and pass it on to a younger female relative, in
some cases) long after its use function had expired.
Women Donors and Historic Clothing at the Indiana State Museum
It is not surprising, then, that women have not only been the primary donors of
historic clothing to the collection at the ISM, but the bulk of the clothing that they offer is
women's, even if it may not have belonged to them. For example, in the 1971 letter cited
above, the author continues, "I have a muff and coat which my mother wore in the 1880's
... some formals of the 1930 vintage ..."15 Citing an example from the following
decade, Dr. Susan Dickey recalls "two or three" sizable donations made in the mid-1980s
by Shirley Kulwin, the wife of a large electrical supplier in Indianapolis. Although some
of the clothing was less than ten years old, Dickey said that she accepted it because "most
of it had come from local department stores and was in excellent condition."
Furthermore, Dickey states, "The donor was able to provide information regarding some
of the occasions for which the clothing was worn."16 In both of these examples, the
history of the garment-where it came from, who wore it, and when it was worn-is
dependent on the donor's knowledge and memories of it.
When clothing is saved, in many cases the history of the object-its story, so to
speak-is preserved as well, thus making the clothes that women are able to offer to the
museum for donation particularly valuable. This is especially important for an institution
like the ISM in which the story of the object is nearly as important as the object itself.
For example, one Wanda Stapp donated the dress and stole that she wore to her junior
prom at Bedford High School in 1957 to the museum in 2000. The donor notes that she
purchased the dress at a shop on the Courthouse Square in Bloomington, a nearby town,
15 From the donor file labeled "Bone, Mary Louise," accession 71.971.30.
16 Susan J. Dickey, personal interview, 22 Nov 2003.
and recalls her surprise at the fact that her parents actually allowed her to travel out of
Bedford to buy it.17 Thus, what at first glance seems an old (albeit unique and well-
constructed) teen formal dress in good condition becomes an object imbued with a piece
of the history of both one woman's life and the state. This example demonstrates that via
the mechanisms of saving, remembering, and donating, women have come to constitute a
primary force in shaping the composition of the historic clothing collection at the ISM.
In the next chapter, I will examine the ways in which the contributions of one woman in
particular had a fundamental impact on both the physical and ideological makeup of
another historic clothing collection, the Elizabeth Sage Historic Costume Collection.
7 From the donor file labeled "Stapp, Wanda," accession 71.2000.004.001.
THE ELIZABETH SAGE HISTORIC COSTUME COLLECTION AT
INDIANA UNIVERSITY, BLOOMINGTON
The Elizabeth Sage Historic Costume Collection (ESHCC) is a museum-quality
collection composed primarily of women's clothing and accessories. The dominance of
women's apparel has been apparent since the collection's inception in 1937, when
Elizabeth Sage, the first professor of textiles and clothing at Indiana University, donated
her personal collection of historic clothing items to the university. While the same
mechanisms discussed in Chapter 2-namely the relationships that women develop with
clothing as a result of their roles as the primary producers/consumers of clothing within
the household unit-have contributed in large part to the sustained prevalence of
women's clothing in the Sage Collection, I would like to argue here that the reasons for
both the shape of the collection in its earliest stages and, indeed, its very existence can be
traced to the ideological premises on which Elizabeth Sage's motivations for collecting
clothing were founded.
Background and History of the Collection
The Elizabeth Sage Historic Costume Collection is an "assemblage of eighteenth,
nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first century clothing and related accessories" whose
mission it is to "record and preserve cultural heritage by collecting, maintaining,
exhibiting and sharing as a resource these articles of dress and accessories."1 Maintained
by the Department of Apparel Merchandising and Interior Design at Indiana University,
1 "Statement of Purpose," The Elizabeth Sage Historic Costume Collection Collection Policy, 2003.
Bloomington, the Sage Collection distinguishes itself from other historic clothing
collections by the fact that it "is not limited to high fashion. It focuses on clothing of the
United States and includes dress of the common person as well as the elite."2
The collection contains "body coverings, articles used to adorn the body, and
articles carried or in some manner used to enhance a fashion;" "items pertaining to
Indiana history and Indiana University history," particularly "articles reflecting the era
1800 to the present;" "articles of dress which reflect American fashion design and
illustrate the efforts of American designers" and "European design as related to American
fashion especially as it serves to illustrate and illuminate American design
statements."3 It is made up of some 20,000 objects, which are broken down as follows:
children's accessories, 222; children's clothing, 516; clothing care and storage, 870;
documentary and non-textile objects, 241; flat textiles, 757; men's accessories, 585;
men's clothing, 679; non-Western objects, 72; personal care objects, 79; published
materials, 3,094; sewing tools and equipment, 4; stage costume: 4 ensembles; uniforms:
6; unisex clothing and accessories, 263; women's accessories, carried: 964; women's
2 Excerpt from a membership brochure, The Elizabeth Sage Historic Costume Collection, n.d.
3 "Collection Objectives," The Elizabeth Sage Historic Costume Collection Collection Policy, 2003.
accessories, worn: 3,200; and women's clothing: 4,794.4 As has already been noted,
women's clothing and accessories comprise the majority of the collection.5
Elizabeth Sage was appointed the first professor of textiles and clothing at Indiana
University in 1913. Over the course of her 24 years of service there, Sage "assembled for
the university a wide variety of clothing and textile instructional materials and
accumulated her own impressive collection of exquisite fashions and accessories."6
When she retired in 1937, Sage donated her personal collection of historic items to the
university, and the Historic Costume Collection was founded in her name.
The number of objects in the collection grew steadily following its formal
inception. Early donations were made by Sage's friends and family, and as word of the
collection spread, items from alumni, faculty and friends "throughout the state and
country" were offered for donation.8 The nation's bicentennial celebration (1975-77)
4 Figures from the computer collections database employed by the ESHCC, io, provided by Kelly Gallett-
Richardson, Assistant Curator, Elizabeth Sage Historic Costume Collection, on November 13, 2003. Items
are grouped in the database according to the classification system employed by the computer collections
database formerly used for the collection, SNAP!. The figures given here total 16,350; however, the
number of items in the collection according to an overall database query totals 20,454. Hence, there is a
difference of 4,104 objects. Mrs. Gallett-Richardson attributes this discrepancy to both nomenclature
problems (at least 220 objects do not have categories) and to the margin of error inherent in database
5 Based on the figures given here, women's clothing and accessories account for approximately 55% of the
collection overall, and 80% of the collection when non-costume and non-Western objects are excluded
from the total count.
6 Kathleen L. Rowold, "Preface," Flights of Fancy: The Art of Fashion's Surface Design (Bloomington:
Metropolitan Printing Service, Inc., 1991) 6.
7 "Early History," The State of the Collection, November 1991: 1. The exact number of items that Miss
Sage donated to the university is not known. Figures range from se\ ciul hundred" to 500 to 700.
However, it has been noted that Sage's "private collection of antique apparel and fashion artifacts ...
initially probably numbered fewer than 200 items." Because this is the most recent (and only published)
figure available, I have chosen to use it here. Tim Lucas, "Sage of Fashion," Indianapolis Star 5 Apr. 1992:
8 "Collection growth and storage facilities," The State of the Collection, November 1991: 1.
marked an important turning point in the collection's growth; beginning in 1976, the first
major exhibit of artifacts from the collection, the "Traveling Exhibition of Historic
Indiana Costumes," was displayed in twenty communities in Indiana in a variety of
public venues.9 The exhibit garnered much attention and interest in the ESHCC, and
donations increased dramatically as a result.10 Prior to the bicentennial exhibition, the
collection was used "primarily for classroom examples and graduate student research ...
Very few people knew it existed.""1 Thus, this event signified the beginning of the
collection's evolution from a hands-on, educational collection to one of museum quality
in which objects were collected explicitly to be preserved and exhibited.12
By 1976, the collection had grown to include a little over 2,000 objects; by 1991,
its holdings totaled over 11,500 objects;13 and by 1997, the collection numbered more
than 15,000 items.14 However, despite the growth of the collection over time, the
ubiquitous presence of women's apparel and accessories has remained a constant. A
document marked "c. 1968" states, "The collection contains almost two thousand
examples of wearing apparel of men and women, children and infants during the
9 Kathleen L. Rowold, "Nelda M. Christ," To Honor Retiring Faculty (program), Indiana University
Bloomington, 9 April 1985.
10 Dr. Kathleen L. Rowold, Curator, Elizabeth Sage Historic Costume Collection, and Professor,
Department of Apparel Merchandising and Interior Design, personal interview, 12 November 2003.
1 Pamela J. Schlick, letter to Lynn Pittman, 18 Mar. 1985.
12 Rowold, personal interview, 12 November 2003, and a membership brochure, The Elizabeth Sage
Historic Costume Collection, n.d.
13 "Collection growth and storage facilities" and "Scope of the Collection," The State of the Collection,
November 1991: 1-2.
14 Rowold, "Preface," 6.
nineteenth and twentieth centuries," but goes on to say that "the bulk of [it] is ladies'
apparel."1 This is still the case today, almost 40 years later.
Why Women's Clothing?
Of course, standard explanations for the overwhelming presence of women's
apparel in the Sage Collection in its earliest years abound. Perhaps it occurred by default:
women's clothing was certainly more ubiquitous in consumer venues than men's or
children's and was thus more readily available for purchase. Additionally, Elizabeth
Sage never married, and she did not have any children. Hence, it seems likely that to
some degree, at least, Sage would have been able to escape the domestic roles required of
women in "traditional" family settings and could thus expend more time, energy, and
money purchasing and collecting clothing for herself. Furthermore, consumer venues
such as department stores and boutiques that carried the exemplary apparel that Sage
sought after catered to, and even targeted, female customers. On another note, perhaps a
woman who amassed an exemplary clothing collection, especially one dominated by
women's apparel, could use the collection as an avenue by which to define herself, to
distinguish her from other women.
While none of these explanations should be disregarded, and while the dominance
of women's clothing in the Sage Collection probably resulted at least in part from some
or perhaps even all of them, the purpose for which the collection was originally
established can account for the ubiquity of women's clothing early in the collection's
history more than any other single factor. Sage intended for the collection to be used as
15 Lavinia Franck, "The Elizabeth Sage Historic Costume Collection," Procedures and Classification
System, c. 1968: 1.
an aid in the training of young women enrolled in Home Economics courses so that they
might learn to be wise consumers of clothing.16
Elizabeth Sage: Teacher, Scholar, Collector
Elizabeth Sage was a professor in what was then called the Home Economics
department at I.U. and "a forerunner of the notion that Home Economics was more than
just sewing.""17 For her, "the study of clothing, textiles, and, particularly, their history,
was an academic subject no less serious than the history of science or art."18 During her
tenure at the university, Sage authored two textbooks, A Study of Costume (1926) and
Textiles and Clothing (1930), the former of which was one of the first books on costume
history to be published in the United States.19
The following statements, excerpted from her 1930 text, reveal Sage's ideas about
what an education in Home Economics should include: "As women more and more
become spenders or consumers, instead of producers as they formerly were, the more
essential it is that girls of to-day be taught how to buy their clothes ready-made. The
active life of the women and girls of to-day gives little time for the making of garments in
the home." Later in the text, she asserts, "It is especially necessary, then, that this rapidly
16 I should note here that the ESHCC does still contain a study collection component; however, classroom
education is no longer the sole objective of the collection. The primary collection, which "includes all
artifacts identified for historic preservation and exhibition," comprises the bulk of the collection as a whole
and will thus constitute my focus here. "Statement of Purpose," The Elizabeth Sage Historic Costume
Collection Collection Policy, 2003.
17 Patricia C. Kampe, untitled document, July 29, 1975.
18 Lucas H1.
19 "Early History," The State of the Collection, November 1991: 1.
increasing number of buyers should have standards for choice when they purchase their
Sage's philosophy was reflected in both her teaching and her collecting. To
supplement her teaching, she collected clothing from family and friends and purchased
exemplary historic costume items and related artifacts while traveling abroad, first in
1925 and again in 1934.21 It seems that Sage began collecting items in the early 1920s.22
Although early records of the collection are incomplete at best, it is known that her
earliest acquisition was an infant's dress-specifically, the Sage family christening
robe.23 The next items to be added to the collection were a blue satin dress and a pink
dress with matching shoes, all of which also belonged to Sage's family.24
Sage also collected examples of men's and children's clothing, but not to the same
degree that she did women's.25 An undated inventory of the ESHCC lists the total
number of items in the collection as 663. Of these 663 items, 410-or 62%-of them are
20 Elizabeth Sage, Textiles and Clothing (New York: Scribner, 1930). Quoted in Gail Benjamin Anderson,
"Elizabeth Sage," unpublished essay, 1967: 3. Page numbers for the statements from the textbook are not
noted in the research paper, and because a copy of the book was not available to me, I have cited the
statements here as they appear in Anderson's paper.
21 "Retirement of Miss Sage," Indiana University Alumni Quarterly Winter 1937: 32.
22 Pamela J. Schlick, "Request for Funding for Additional Storage Space in the Elizabeth Sage Historic
Costume Collection Department of Home Economics," 1981: 1. Each statement in this document
references a document authored by Coffee in 1978. This refers to a report prepared by consultant Barbara
Coffee of the Smithsonian Institution Museum of American History, who was hired in 1976 "to assess the
state of the Collection and to make recommendations on storage, conservation, and exhibition issues"
("Collection Growth and Storage Facilities," 1). Unfortunately, a copy of her report was not available at
the time that the research for this study was conducted.
23 "Collection growth and storage facilities" 1 and Anderson 4.
24 Anderson 4. See also "Appendix I: Transcription of Sage 1925/1928 Inventory," The State of the
Collection, November 1991: 9.
25 Anderson notes that Miss Sage's collection consisted of "outstanding examples of clothing for men,
women, and children from 1830 to her time." Anderson 4.
women's clothing and accessories, while only 17 (2.5%) are men's, 52 (8%) are
children's, and 93 (14%) are infants'.26 Given that the collection that Sage gave to the
university contained approximately 200 items, it is not unreasonable to conclude that it
would have reflected similar percentages.
Based on the opinions Sage expressed in her scholarly writing, it seems clear that
her decision to collect more women's clothing than men's or children's was an informed
decision on her part. Her primary objectives included teaching young women how to
"buy their clothes ready-made" and provide them with education regarding "standards for
choice when they purchase their clothes;" hence, that her collection exhibits a majority
percentage of women's clothing is not surprising.27 However, it is significant that her
ideas about Home Economics education constituted not only the basis for her collecting
practices but the very premise on which the collection was founded.
Sage's idea that young women needed to be educated to be wise consumers of
clothing provides several indications as to the ways in which women's roles and
femininity were perceived in American culture at that time. First of all, women were
becoming "more and more .. spenders or consumers, instead of producers as they
formerly were."28 Thus, consumption, especially of clothing, was becoming a requisite
component of femininity itself: being a woman meant being a consumer. Additionally,
Sage's idea seems to reflect at least some degree of cultural anxiety (or her own) in
regard to the consumer roles that women were quickly assuming in the first half of the
26 "Collection growth and storage facilities" and "Appendix 2: Undated Inventory," The State of the
Collection, 1 and 10-13.
27 Sage as quoted in Anderson.
28 Sage as quoted in Anderson.
twentieth century. Implicit in the notion that women needed to be educated about
clothing consumption is the assumption that there existed the potential for women to
consume irresponsibly or recklessly. As consumption eclipsed production as the primary
method of clothing acquisition and women ventured with increasing frequency into the
consumer realm to purchase their clothing, a sudden need to educate them about it arose.
If we recall the discussion in Chapter 1 of the disquietude many Parisians felt in the late
eighteenth century, when women were for the first time in history venturing into public to
consume, such a response to women's newfound roles as the primary consumers of their
own clothing, even in the twentieth century, is perhaps not so surprising. Furthermore, it
is important to note that the notion of responsible consumption reflected in the reasons
for Sage's collecting coincided directly with the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great
Depression that followed. This is significant if only for the fact that it demonstrates the
promulgation of a conception of consumption that differs fundamentally from those that
preceded it. During this time, emphasis was placed on frugality and fiscal responsibility,
not the excess and luxury that had characterized consumption historically.29
Regardless of the primary purposes for which the objects in the Sage Collection
have been used over time, the perception of women as consumers-especially of
clothing-and the idea that consumption embodies at least in part the very essence of
what it means to be "feminine" are reflected and perpetuated not only via the composition
of the collection itself but in its very reason for being. Hence, the contributions of one
29 This, too, raises the question of class and the ways in which it is related to perceptions of "good" or
"proper" consumption. Rosalind Williams' discussion of courtly consumption is instructive in unearthing
those early models of consumption to which large groups of people aspired and their defining
characteristics, namely frivolity and excess. See Chapter 2, "The Closed World of Courtly Consumption,"
in Dream Worlds: Mass Consumption in Late Nineteenth-Century France, 19-57.
individual-Elizabeth Sage-made a fundamental and lasting impact on the collection as
it exists today, physically and ideologically.
The purposes for which clothing is collected within a particular collecting body,
then, dictate the ways in which women are represented and consequently how they are
perceived in the space of that collecting body (in this case, the ESHCC). In an institution
such as the Indianapolis Museum of Art in which clothing is collected as art, we see that
other reasons for collecting clothing come to bear directly on ideas about women and
COSTUME IN THE TEXTILE AND FASHION ARTS COLLECTION AT
THE INDIANAPOLIS MUSEUM OF ART
The historic costume component of the Textile and Fashion Arts Collection at the
Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA) is comprised of costumes, costume accessories, and
costume components1 of"aesthetic or art historical significance."2 In other words,
clothing is collected explicitly for its aesthetic properties. Primary emphasis is placed on
the visual qualities of the item, on the ability of the item to stimulate visual engagement.3
What is of interest in the case of the historic costume collection at the IMA is the fact that
the collecting of clothing as art has led to the formation of a costume collection that is
almost entirely women's clothing. Based on this composition, it seems logical to
conclude that thus far, only women's clothing and accessories have been able to meet the
criteria for collecting-i.e., that they fall into the category of "art." I will argue here that
those qualities that enable women's apparel to be considered as "art" bear directly on the
ways in which gender is both represented and perceived within the context of the art
1 "Costume components" include fabrics that were part of a costume at one time as well as items such as
2 "Permanent Collection," Collection Definitions, Indianapolis Museum of Art, 2001.
3 Stephen Greenblatt's concept of"wonder" is especially instructive here. Greenblatt defines "wonder" as
"the power of the displayed object to stop the viewer in his or her tracks, to convey an arresting sense of
uniqueness, to evoke an exalted attention." Stephen Greenblatt, "Resonance and Wonder," Exhibiting
Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display, ed. Ivan Karp and Steven D. Lavine (Washington,
D.C.: Smithsonian Institution P, 1991) 42.
Background and Institutional History
The Indianapolis Museum of Art is a large art museum whose mission it is to
"enable a large and diverse audience to see, understand and enjoy the best of the world's
visual arts," and "to this end [it] collects, preserves, exhibits and interprets original works
of art."4 One of the largest general art museums in the nation,5 its permanent collection
consists of approximately 42,000 objects in nine curatorial departments: African,
Oceanic, and Precolumbian Art; Asian Art; Classical Art; Contemporary Art (post-1945);
Decorative Arts; European and American Paintings and Sculpture (1800-1945); European
Paintings and Sculpture (before 1800); Prints, Drawings, and Photographs; and Textile
and Fashion Arts.6
The Textile and Fashion Arts Collection is comprised of nearly 6,000 items and
"represents virtually all of the world's traditions in fabric," including Asian, West Asian,
African, American, and European textiles and costumes. Chinese textiles and costumes,
Japanese kimonos and Buddhist robes, Kashmir shawls and Indian ceremonial
furnishings, Indonesian textiles, rugs and furnishing textiles from Turkmenistan and
Uzbekistan, Iranian rugs and kilims, Ottoman embroideries from Turkey, Baluchi rugs
and weavings, sub-Saharan African textiles and costumes, Moroccan costumes and
embroideries, American and European silks dating from the sixteenth through the
nineteenth centuries, a lace collection spanning 500 years, nineteenth-century paisley
4 "IMA's Mission Statement," Museum News. A monthly newsletter for IMA Staff November 2003: 1.
5 The Story of the Indianapolis Museum of Art (Indianapolis: Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1998) 8.
6 This information was obtained via a marketing document prepared by Rebekah Marshall of the IMA in
May of 2002. At the time of the creation of this document, the department now known as "Textile and
Fashion Arts" was referred to as "Textiles and Costumes." To avoid confusion, I have chosen to use the
department's most recent name here.
shawls from England, Indiana quilts and coverlets, European costumes dating from the
eighteenth through the twentieth centuries, and twentieth-century fashion, especially
works by Indiana natives Norman Norell, Bill Blass, and Halston, all number among the
Curator Niloo Imami-Paydar notes that while an attempt has never been made to
separate the collection into "textile" and "costume" components for inventory purposes,
she estimates that 70-80% of the collection is costume. Within this part of the collection,
the overwhelming majority-Imami-Paydar says as much as 99%-is women's. Men's
clothing is not actively collected (nor has it ever been), with the exception of some canes,
a few top hats, and "3 or 4" eighteenth-century men's ensembles.8
The Indianapolis Museum of Art was founded in 1883 as the Art Association of
Indianapolis.9 The Association's "Aims and Needs" statement indicates its mission:
The Art Association proposes to increase its permanent art collection, to hold
frequent exhibitions of the productions of contemporary American and foreign
artists, to develop an art library to add to the facilities for teaching in the art school
in order to keep abreast of the most advanced methods of instruction, to give
lectures, receptions, and entertainments of an artistic character, and in every way
possible to encourage the study and love of art among the people.10
S"Collections: Textile and Fashion Arts," Indianapolis Museum of Art, 2004, Indianapolis Museum of Art,
1 Nov 2004
8 Niloo Imami-Paydar, Curator, Textile and Fashion Arts, personal interview, 1 Nov 2004.
9 The Story of the Indianapolis Museum of Art 8.
10 Art Association of Indianapolis, Indiana: A Record, 1883-1906. Published on the occasion of the
dedication of the John Herron Art Institute, November 20, 1906. (This report is located in the book labeled
"Art Association Reports 1883-1911" in the library at the museum.)
Thus, it is clear that from the beginning, the Association meant to collect art exclusively.
Yet today, the museum's permanent collection is "composed of objects of aesthetic or art
Why Women's Clothing?
In contrast to the historic clothing collection at the Indiana State Museum and the
Elizabeth Sage Historic Costume Collection, in the case of the IMA, the causes for the
dominance of women's attire in the costume portion of the collection are located not in
the history of the collecting of clothing over time but in the museum's rationale for
collecting clothing in the first place. What Schlereth refers to as "evidential biases" are,
then, of primary concern in regard to this particular collection.12 As has already been
noted, the museum has focused on collecting "art," or "objects of aesthetic or art
historical significance," throughout its history. But again, it is remarkable that the
collecting of clothing for this purpose has led to the development of what is essentially a
women's clothing collection. Does the collecting of clothing as art preclude the inclusion
of men's clothing? I would argue that it does not. Thus, an examination of some of the
reasons why this may have occurred is in order.
A brief discussion of what Flugel referred to as The Great Masculine Renunciation
can elucidate some of the issues surrounding the present composition of the costume
collection at the IMA.13 As has been previously noted, following the French Revolution,
men's apparel became markedly subdued, and it has remained so to up to the present day,
1 "Permanent Collection," Collection Definitions, Indianapolis Museum of Art, 2001.
12 In his discussion of children's clothing collections, Thomas Schlereth states, "...many... share the same
evidential biases that costume historians and curators bemoan for adult clothing: far fewer male costumes
than female ones" (Schlereth 93).
13 Fliigel 52.
both in France and in the United States. Male renunciation of "all the brighter, gayer,
more elaborate, and more varied forms of ornamentation" was reflected in clothing that
was dark in color, free of embellishment and adornment, and simply constructed.14 As
man "abandoned his claim to be considered beautiful" and "henceforth aimed at being
only useful,""15 brightly colored, ornately embellished, and elaborately fashioned
garments and accessories were relegated to the realm of women. This, too, is generally
still the case in the twenty-first century.
This phenomenon has a number of implications for the IMA's collecting habits in
regard to clothing. The museum aims to collect art specifically, and the qualities that
enable women's clothing and accessories to be considered as "art" include striking
colors, detailed ornamentation, and/or intricate or unique construction. What is important
to note is that all of these qualities share a common trait: they stimulate visual
engagement on the part of the viewer-i.e., they invite looking.
Given these collecting criteria, it is safe to say that most, if not all, of the clothing
and accessories in the Textile and Fashion Arts Collection at the IMA were originally
intended not only to be worn but also to be seen. Consequently, the woman who donned
such an article or ensemble would have invited looking, observation. This brings to light
a fundamental assumption about the role of women in a historical context: that they
existed to be seen, to be noticed, to be studied. This is not to say that women did not
have or play other roles; certainly, they did, and the importance of those roles cannot be
underestimated. However, it is significant that this particular role-the role of the
14 Fliigel 52, 110-111.
5 Flfigel 111.
viewed, of the object of viewing-is promulgated more than any other, however subtly,
via the composition of the clothing collection at the IMA.
This conveys to the viewer, too, a message about the role of women within the
space of the art museum. The application of Laura Mulvey's notion of the
spectacularization of women in cinema can be useful here: if women's clothing is
exhibited as art, it follows that woman becomes a (the) spectacle as a result: ... women
are simultaneously looked at and displayed, with their appearance coded for strong visual
and erotic impact so that they can be said to connote to-be-looked-at-ness."16 Thus, both
the composition of the clothing collection and the exhibition of the women's items within
it reinforce the idea that in a historical context, women existed solely to be seen.
However, the exhibition of women's clothing within the art museum space begs the
question of whether it is indeed woman or the clothing itself that becomes
spectacularized. I would argue that the physical form of "woman" (i.e., the woman's
body) cannot be separated from women's clothing, regardless of the method of
exhibition, and that woman remains the spectacle as a result, but this question is
significant enough to warrant further exploration.
An equally important avenue of inquiry regarding the reasons for the prevalence of
women's clothing in the collection can be found in those areas of historic costume that
are emphasized within it. While the scope of the collection as a whole is broad,
American and European costumes dating from the eighteenth through the twentieth
16 Laura Mulvey, "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema," Issues in Feminist Film Criticism, ed. Patricia
Erens (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1990) 33.
centuries and twentieth-century fashion together constitute the bulk of the costume
component of the collection, and each is "constantly expanding.""17
The Indiana Fashion Design Collection-a collection composed chiefly of designer
gowns-was established in 1973 at the IMA with a gift of five pieces from the estate of
Norman Norell. By 1992, the collection had grown to include more than 700 pieces,
including both haute couture (made-to-order) and pret-a-porter (ready-to-wear) fashions
by American and European designers, as well as many accessories, and it continues to
grow today.18 Especially as regards this collection, women's clothing and accessories
play an integral role, since they comprise the very essence of what "fashion" is. Before
the 1960s, fashion designers created women's clothing exclusively; men who wanted
custom-made garments patronized tailors. It was only in the 1960s that major designers
began to take up the introduction of men's lines in addition to their creations for
women.19 Hence, it seems appropriate that a "Fashion Design Collection" would consist
almost entirely of women's apparel.
This, too, has connotations for the ways in which gender is perceived and
represented within the context of the art museum. The collecting of fashion items for an
art museum collection confers legitimacy upon fashion as an art form, and upon fashion
designers as artists, but in doing so it also conveys a representation of women that is
necessarily limited. By choosing to collect only women's clothing and accoutrements-
and visually engaging clothing and accoutrements at that-the museum intimates not
17 The Story of the Indianapolis Museum of Art 51.
18 The Fine Art of Fashion: Recent Acquisitions (Indianapolis: Indianapolis Museum of Art, 1992).
19 Phyllis G. Tortora and Keith Eubank, Survey of Historic Costume, A History of Western Dress. 2nd ed.
(New York: Fairchild Publications, 1994) 450, 477.
only what is important in terms of the history of clothing as an art form, but also what is
important in terms of the history of women as the wearers of these items. The fact that
the costume collection is composed mostly of women's clothing may enable it to
recognize the role of women in history in a more significant way than any other area of
the art museum's collection, but the fact that it does so on a purely aesthetic (or even art
historical) basis limits the degree to which women can be accurately represented in a
historical context. It happens, then, that in the art museum, women come to be identified
solely by the clothing that they wore: women are represented by clothing, and clothes
represent women. This extends also to those areas of the costume collection that do not
fall into the category of "fashion," namely eighteenth- through twentieth-century
American and European costumes but also other areas of Western costume.
The fact that men's clothing is so conspicuously absent from the costume collection
at the IMA gives the impression that men's clothing is not worthy of aesthetic
contemplation or that it is not art historically significant because it is not brightly colored,
ornately embellished, or elaborately fashioned-in other words, because it is not visually
engaging. But is this conclusion valid? True, men's clothes may not possess the same
visual qualities that women's do, but this does not mean that men's clothing is not
important in an aesthetic or art historical sense. Hence, what does this utter lack (or at
least gross underrepresentation) of male-and, conversely, what can only be called near-
total dominance of women's-dress within the costume collection at the IMA imply
about gender in the context of the art museum? It suggests that men's clothes are not
intended to be studied or looked at, nor are the men who wear them. Flugel reminds us
that following The Great Masculine Renunciation, man "abandoned his claim to be
considered beautiful" and "henceforth aimed at being only useful."20 Thus, while the
contemplation of men's clothing is not ruled out entirely, there seems to be no place for it
in the art museum space.
The analysis presented here means to serve not so much as a judgment of the
Indianapolis Museum of Art's decision to collect only women's apparel for inclusion in
its Textile and Fashion Arts Collection but rather attempts to illuminate the historical
inaccuracies that can result from such a decision. In an institution that purports to
represent history-in this case, art history-accurately, the reasons for the dominant
presence of women's apparel and accessories within the collection become paramount, as
they reveal that however inadvertently or unintentionally, traditionally-held (and even
outdated) notions of acceptable roles for, and perceptions of, men and women are both
reflected and perpetuated in its composition and display.
20 Fliigel 111.
Based on the analyses presented here, it seems that regardless of the reasons for
which clothing is collected-the story to which an item is attached, its usefulness as a
teaching aid, or special aesthetic properties that it possesses-women's apparel is, time
and again, the single most prevalent component within historic clothing collections today.
What does this say about the collecting of clothing and, more broadly, institutional
collecting practices at large?
First of all, it is important to point out that a very particular version of history is
being represented within all of these collections: the history of the predominantly white
middle- and upper-middle classes, and specifically that of [white] middle- and upper-
class women. This has both positive and negative connotations. On one hand, it might
be argued that because of their predominantly female compositions-in other words, by
sheer volume-historic clothing collections can actually serve to represent women better
than any other single area of the museum's collection. However, on the other side of this
is the argument that by representing women more with clothing than with any other type
of artifact in the museum, historical fact and context is lost, or is, at the very least, biased
to a considerable degree. Additionally, as has already been noted, it is important to
acknowledge that class biases, too, are at work in the development of historic clothing
collections. This issue warrants further consideration and investigation.
Second, these issues beg the question of museum responsibility. What is the
museum's primary responsibility? Is it, in fact, to accurately represent history to the
people for whom it holds historic objects in trust? To inspire "wonder"1 or to stir a desire
for learning in the viewer? Is it all of these things, or perhaps none of them? The case
studies presented here are illuminating in this regard. The historic clothing collection at
the Indiana State Museum does, in fact, strive to ". represent the customs, mores, and
social practices of Hoosiers of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds"2, while the mission of
the ESHCC is to "record and preserve cultural heritage by collecting, maintaining,
exhibiting and sharing as a resource articles of dress and accessories"3 and the aim of
the IMA generally is to "enable a large and diverse audience to see, understand and enjoy
the best of the world's visual arts."4 Thus, it can be said that both the ISM and the Sage
Collection seem to endeavor to present a balanced view of history. However, in the case
of the IMA, no such claim is made; the presentation of "the best of the world's visual
arts" is hardly a guarantee that history will be accorded fair and balanced representation
within its walls. Can we conclude, then, that history is presented least accurately in the
art museum? Perhaps. But why?
Although it is touched on to some degree within this study, further investigation
regarding the particular methods used to exhibit clothing within the space of the museum
(or other collecting institution) would serve as an important complement to the analysis
presented here. The historical reasons for the collecting of clothing and the fact that
historic clothing collections are comprised primarily of women's clothing are of
fundamental importance in unearthing some of the ideological forces at play in museum
1 Greenblatt 42.
2 "Social History," Collections Management Policy, Indiana State Museum and Historic Sites, 2003: 10-11.
3 "Statement of Purpose," The Elizabeth Sage Historic Costume Collection Collection Policy, 2003.
4 "IMA's Mission Statement," Museum News, A monthly newsletter for IMA Staff November 2003: 1.
collecting practices, but the ways in which these collections have the opportunity to affect
their audiences are illuminating in regard to the other end of the spectrum of museum
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Stacey E. Jones was born on May 2, 1979, in Indianapolis, Indiana, where she lived
in the same house until she was 17 years old. Always eager to break with convention, in
1996, Stacey moved to Arizona to attend college at Northern Arizona University and
Arizona State University, respectively. In 2000, she graduated summa cum laude from
Arizona State University with a bachelor's degree in anthropology and a minor in French.
The following year, she made (and survived) a perilous journey east to Gainesville,
Florida, where she began-and eventually completed-her graduate studies in museology
at the University of Florida. After graduation, Jones hopes to shed the drudgeries of
small-town life and begin her museum career in a major city. She also plans to travel
extensively, teach in Japan, learn how to sew, read books for fun, continue singing, and
enjoy doing nothing sometimes without feeling guilty about it.