Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Invitation to the Ball: Marjorie Merriweather Post's Fancy Dress Costumes at Hillwood

The exhibit on Marjorie Merriweather Post's fancy dress costumes at Hillwood House and Gardens is closing this weekend. I highly recommend going to see it. I was fortunate enough to get a tour from the curator, Mr. Howard Kurtz. While the exhibit only contains five costumes (four of Mrs. Post's and one belonging to one of her husbands, E. F. Hutton), it is a rich and interesting show. The exhibit space is a little unorthodox- it's in the dacha, a small squarish building with freestanding curved walls on the interior- the exhibit flows along the outer walls and the outside of the curved walls, into the space enclosed by the curved walls, and finishes along the outside walls again. Kurtz has done an excellent job arranging the objects so that they are accessible and make narrative sense- there are costumes located in three of the corners and inside the curved walls, didactic panels along the outside walls, and ephemera throughout. For me, the ephemera really makes this exhibit, even though the costumes are the most visually exciting part- Mr. Kurtz has found objects, such as invitations, photographs, costume patterns, etc. that put the garments in context and help familiarize the concept of the fancy dress ball, something fairly far removed from us today. The visitor understands not only what a fancy dress ball was but how it was a part of the lavish escapism of the disillusioned 1920s. Mrs. Post herself helped create the narrative by keeping only four of her fancy dress costumes, each of which happens to fit into one of the four main categories of fancy dress (these may not be worded exactly the way Mr. Kurtz words them, but the gist is the same): Literary , Historical , Allegorical, and Folk/Ethnic.

Get to the show before it's gone! For more information, visit the Hillwood website.

"Mab's Fashions," showing fancy dress costumes, Life, 1924.


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