The Museum of Vancouver (MOV) is featuring an exhibit on women’s fashion until November.
“Dressed for History: Why Costume Collections Matter” features women’s fashion pieces from 1750 to 2000. There are almost 300 items on display, including 43 full costumes, 31 pairs of shoes, 28 hats, and more.
The clothing pieces on display have been borrowed from four local collectors, one of which is Ivan Sayers, who has been collecting historical clothing for almost 60 years.
“[MOV] had approached me personally about doing an exhibition using my own collection. But I felt that in order to do a good exhibition, it was important to include [items] from other major collections in the city,” Sayers says.
The other collectors who have their clothing on display are Clause Jahnke, Melanie Talkington, and members of the BC Society for the Museum of Original Costume (SMOC).
However, Sayers’ collection mainly focuses on the 18th and 19th centuries as he has always been interested in this time period of fashion.
“I was drawn to the history of clothing because I could find real pieces. The popularity of vintage clothing didn’t happen until the hippie revolution happened at the end of the 60s, so when I started to collect vintage clothing in 1966, I had no competition. I could go to a thrift store and buy a Victorian dress for $1.00,” Sayers says.
He also says that academic circles used to think this type of clothing didn’t have any value.
“Now, major museums are … starting to respect [vintage] clothing because it is hard to find. It is evidence of that way of life and reflects the development of technology. It is all part of a bigger picture,” he says.
The collection also allows people to reflect on how challenging these times in history were for women.
“Old clothing is often very beautiful, but life for women in the past was very restrictive. A lot of women bought into it and were content because that was the way they thought it was supposed to be. We are better off now because [women] don’t need to wear corsets or dresses that cover the floor,” Sayers says.
Now with factory workers, efficient technologies, and cheaper clothing materials, elaborate clothing is not necessary to make anymore.
“We have to create fabric to clothe eight billion people in the world. We can’t afford to have dresses like they had in the 1840s, that used 20 yards of fabric. Clothing is created to accommodate the modern lifestyle, within the restrictions of what the world can supply,” he says.
However, the past can also help designers and fashion lovers predict what clothing may look like in the future.
“If you go and look at what they did in the past, you can understand how conditions change. You can predict what will happen next … and jump ahead of your competitors,” Sayers says.
“[For example,] these tattoos are a fad, like any other fad throughout history, and what will happen with the next generation is people won’t want to show them off because they will be associated with old people…. In the future, dresses may have long sleeves and long skirts to hide the tattoos.”
Sayers believes clothing can provide insight into specific time periods and each item impacts what we wear today.
“It is a progression to show the evolution of fashion from the mid 18th century to the 2000s. If you take out one piece, you lose the link in the chain. Each one is important as part of a continuation. Some may be more glamorous than others, but they are all equally important,” he says.
“My favourite [pieces] are probably the two 18th century gowns.”
Tickets cost $15 for students with student ID. To learn more about MOV’s exhibit visit the MOV’s website.