(For those of you that missed the actual installation of the Athens Cultural Center's exhibit on fashion of the 19th century, curated by Geoff. Please check out the online version below!)

Out of the Wardrobe, Trunk and Attic: 

Curated, designed and installed by Geoff Howell.

In doing some research last year on the history of architecture in Athens, I found, amongst photos of old houses, some shots of people that lived in them as well- It struck me how formal and stylish they were.  It was partly due to those photos that I thought it would be great to build a costume exhibit,
presenting the clothes people wore in the 19th century, the period during which most of Athens came to be, so that we could get a better sense of who the people were that lived here then. This supposes that how they dressed tells us something about who they were-and in this instance, I think it does: it is helpful to know what conventions people upheld, fashion-wise and otherwise as it informed every part of their lives.  Advances in technology have always changed the way the people have presented themselves, as well as the outside and the inside of their homes- some things remained consistent throughout the 1800's: building the nicest house they could afford, and wearing the nicest clothes they could make, or have made-and doing both in the most stylish way.

This exhibit attempts to give a sense, through period photographs, antique clothing, and a few related artifacts, of how styles changed during those 100 years, how it influenced some 20th century fashion,
and also to be able to see garments up close from as long as 170 years ago-clothing that was all sewn by hand, often made of silk that would have been woven in France or England and imported to maybe even the old dry goods store we are in now.

Special thanks to the following people who have helped with this show: Michele Saunders  and David Ludwig for donating their time in helping with the installation, Tim Albright for loaning many historic family photos, Howard Zar for loaning several very special items, and to the Coxsackie Antiques Center for the loan of some bust forms, engravings, and garments. Realistic mannequins courtesy of Rootstein Mannequins, New York and London.

       This show is dedicated to my mother, Elizabeth Howell, 1920-2001, who was my first fashion icon.

As you enter the space, the first wall to left is covered with a montage of actual antique photographs as well as copies of other dating from roughly 1840-1910 showing great examples of styles as they changed through the decades.

Below are close-ups of local Athenians from period photographs:

Moving back to the exhibition...

To the right, is a period wardrobe made in New York State containing a collection of men's clothing including a mid 19th century Parsons coat -completely hand-sewn, a variety of hats from 1860-1915, hat and collar boxes and some wonderful period photographs in their original frames.

In this photo is shown a collection of women's dress-making forms from 1890-1940, showing the continously changing 'desirable' silhouette. Also included are some mid 19th century undergarments found in my attic for supporting bustles and a hoop skirt. Also in this photograph is a wool-plaid two piece dress with silk, velvet trim from the 1890's.

This silk brocade and silk velvet dress from the 1870's is shown in front of a mirror from the same period. This dress came from a local Athenian collection.
Displayed in mid 19th century hand-painted, cottage-style dressers are shown a collection of hand-sewn 'crazy quilts'. Crazy quilts were very stylish from the late 1860's to about 1900 and were always made of fine  dress amking fabrics. This was included in the exhibit to highlight the great variety of colors, textures, and patterns used in the fashions of that period. Shown on top is a Singer sewing machine from around 1890. Sewing machines were first used domestically in the 1850's

This wall contains an illustrated fashion time-line from 1800-1910 including original engravings and some period photographs. Also included are photographs of houses built in Athens throughout the 19th century.

In the main gallery were showcased 32 original period garments from 1830-1910. Starting at the left is a silk brocade with hoop skirt from the 1840's shown with a silk lace shawl from the same period. The rest of the dresses from left to right show examples of the changing silhouette up through 1900 at the far right, including the bustled dresses of the 1870's  and the ever larger leg of mutton sleeves.


In the above photograph is a hand-loomed wool and silk paisley shawl from 1830's. Below it is a brown and garnett plaid bodice from the 1850's and three other period silk dresses from slightly later on in the century.

This collection of silk bodices (the top part the dress) are all mid 19th century with the exception of the black and white-striped piece from the 1890's. The forms were designed and made at Geoff Howell Studio. Most of these bodices are entirely hand-sewn.
This collection of capelets and bodices range from the 1880's to around 1910 and are all made of silk. Many of these include machine stitches.


Here's a simple black wool and cotton lace trimmed day dress.
The proverbial 'high-button shoe'
Here's an 1880's wardrobe, fitted with three rows of pegs at the top for hanging garments and is showcasing mostly summer clothing in white cotton silk and linen, including a pair of bloomers, an embroidered shawl and three silk fans trimmed with feathers.  The form shows a very fine cotton lawn dress from the turn of the century. Also shown are two pairs of women's brown leather boots.
his extravagrant pastel portrait in the large aesthetic movement frame was produced in the 1880's and is shown above an early 20th century carriage with a hand-embroidered wool felt Victorian baby blanket.
These 3 black dresses with white lace collars were worn by Geoff's mother in the late 1930's and are included in the exhibition to show the resurgence in popularity of a romanticized version of mid 19th century styling featuring, for the first time in 30 years, fitted waists, tight-fitting bodices and full skirts. The high fashion mannequins were generously loaned by Rootstein.

The piano stands ready for the opening night celebration.
AuthorGeoff Howell Studio Inc.