Colonial Williamsburg®

History.org: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation's Official History and Citizenship Website

CW Foundation navigation

The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

Page content
Reset text sizeResize text larger

September 30, 2002

CW bursting at the seams with blockbuster clothing exhibition

Colonial Williamsburg will model an extensive selection of its antique fashion finery beginning this fall in the blockbuster exhibition “The Language of Clothing.” The display, featuring more than 300 pieces of authentic clothing, accessories and dolls, will be open to the public at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum, Oct. 26, 2002 through Oct. 26, 2003.

People of every era have used clothing not only to meet daily functional needs, but also to communicate concepts such as status, social standing and even current notions of propriety. Like letters or documents from the past, antique clothes tell stories about the people who originally made and wore them. How and when was the garment made, used or altered? How was the wearer’s body shaped? What styles did people consider beautiful or acceptable for a particular occasion? Are there hidden messages in the shape or style of the garment?

The display will be divided into individual themes including:

  • Shopping for 18th-century clothing;
  • A time line of how clothing changed during the 18th and 19th centuries;
  • Consumer availability of costumes and textiles, suggested through groupings of accessories and small garments;
  • The dual nature of American textiles from silks to homespun;
  • Clothing for the life cycle from cradle to grave;
  • How trade brought English, Chinese and Indian textiles to American clothing;
  • 18th-century clothing connoisseurship;
  • Formal and court clothing; and
  • Informal and work clothing.

    Highlights of “The Language of Clothing” will include:

  • Women’s gowns, ca. 1740-1860, ranging from gold- and silver-brocaded formal gowns to everyday jackets and petticoats;
  • Men’s suits, ca. 1760-1860, ranging from silk-embroidered court presentation suits to servants’ liveries and everyday leather breeches;
  • Children’s clothes, ca. 1700-1830, including infants’ shirts, embroidered and lace-trimmed caps, tiny frocks worn by boys and girls, boys’ first suits and boned stays or corsets;
  • Accessories for men, women and children, ca. 1700-1850, including caps, hats, aprons, gloves, shoes and fans; and
  • Woven and printed textile fragments.

    An accompanying publication, "What Clothes Reveal: The Language of Clothing in Colonial America" by Linda Baumgarten, Colonial Williamsburg curator of textiles and costumes, is being published by Colonial Williamsburg and Yale University Press, and will be available in October 2002.

    “The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation has collected clothing since the early 1930s,” said Baumgarten, who is exhibition curator as well as author of the exhibition publication. “The antique costumes in its collection are an unsurpassed archive of aesthetic beauty and documentary information about people living in the 18th and early 19th centuries.”

    Media Contact:
    Sophia Hart
    (757) 220-7272



  • Footer