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Inside – Out: Women’s Status and Roles from Foundation to Silhouette

In post-revolution America, Thomas Jefferson pondered what it meant to be an American, in particular how to dress as an American. Leaving behind the frivolous clothes of European court dress (while still embracing Parisian fashions), the American woman adopted a style that reflected a less formal and more democratic attitude. With the change of their outerwear came a change of their undergarments. One dictated the other. Thus begins the relationship between the American woman, her changing silhouette, and her undergarments. Inside Out will explore the relationship between American women and their undergarments against a backdrop of fashion, sociological changes and political climate.

The exhibit will present eight key eras in American history and explore the relationship between each era’s fashionable female silhouette, sociological changes and the political climate. Initiating with the Federalist chapter, it will investigate the post-revolution idea of what it meant to dress as an American. The Victorian chapter will explore the period’s enthusiasm for structural engineering and its impact on a woman’s shape, in the form of corsets, crinolines, and bustles. The 20th century was a time of great change, and five additional  chapters will discuss the carefree flapper girl of the 1920s; women entering the workforce during the 1940s; the elegant, controlled female silhouette of the 1950s, ultimately challenged by the liberated and more politically active woman of the 1960s. The last chapter deals with our contemporary age, demonstrating how constrictive undergarments of past centuries are by no means gone and forgotten—their designs still influence fashion, and women still actively choose to squeeze their natural shapes into the perceived ideal.

A hardcover illustrated catalogue, containing an anthology of essays by a range of voices will be available.