Dressing Ghosts: Museum Exhibitions of Historical Fashion in Britain and North America
thesisposted on 05.10.2012, 14:13 by Julia Petrov
By critically analyzing trends in museum fashion exhibition practice over the past century, this thesis defines and describes the varied representations of historical fashion within museum exhibitions in Britain and North America. Evidence collected through archival research on past exhibitions at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Bath Fashion Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Brooklyn Museum, the Royal Ontario Museum, and the McCord Museum, and supplemented by media reports, academic reviews, as well as secondary theoretical literature, suggests that the discourses of historical fashion exhibitions have been heavily influenced by the anxieties and values placed upon fashion more generally. The discipline of fashion curation is deeply rooted in and dependent upon much earlier display practices in museums, galleries, and shops. The interplay between personal and world-historical narratives in exhibitions, the celebration of consumerism and corporate brand identity, as well as claims to aesthetic universality and quality, continued to surface across historical fashion exhibitions in all the institutions studied over the period 1913 to the present. Moreover, historical fashion, as it has been displayed in the case study institutions, also reflects the function of the museum institution itself, especially its visual marking of time and social contexts. This thesis contributes to a growing literature on the history of museums and on fashion curation and provides a historical framework for exhibitions of historical fashion to both disciplines. The worksheet generated during data-gathering provides an objective vocabulary for evaluating the physical and intellectual content of a historical fashion exhibition, and is a potentially useful tool for future researchers. Furthermore, as this dissertation investigates the role of display as a means of communication about material culture, it provides new and original insights into this important aspect of museum practice and therefore, also contributes to theoretical debates within the larger field of cultural heritage.