Fabulous Fashion – Decades of Change: 1890s, 1920s, & 1950s

Kathryne Beynon Exhibition Hall

October 9, 2015 through February 14, 2016


From the uncomfortable corsets and ornate bodices of the 1890s to the deconstructed freedom of the 1920s to the full skirts and bullet bras of the 1950s, fashion trends in Pasadena followed the rest of the country.

This exhibition highlighted women’s clothing worn from morning to night, comparing these three memorable decades. Over 40 exquisite garments from Pasadena Museum of History’s extensive Costume and Textile Collection, plus period accessories and household objects, were featured.

The Gay Nineties brought new-found wealth and luxury to many. Women’s roles as wives and mothers began to change as rigid moral standards and stiff formal manners loosened, but clothing remained very structured with prescribed styles for every activity. A period etiquette book describes no less than twenty-four essential outfits required for various activities in a woman’s day!

The Roaring Twenties was a decade of prosperity, decadence, and flamboyance. The 1920s was a time of social upheaval. In August 1920, the Women’s Suffrage Amendment was ratified, giving women the right to vote. Women’s roles in society were changing.

Throughout the 1950s, American cultural emphasis was on domesticity, placing the highest value on home and family. Prosperity and consumerism defined this decade as the country returned to more traditional roles after World War II. Women were expected to be the perfect wives and mothers, important accessories to a husband’s career. Gender roles, and women’s clothing along with, became more rigid.

Fabulous Fashion was curated by Dr. Elizabeth Smalley and Suzanne Ehrmann with assistance from Elissa De Angelo, Roberta Dumas, and Susan Stevens. A special introduction was composed by Ann Erdman.

The exhibition was made possible in part by the Pasadena Arts & Culture Commission and the City of Pasadena Cultural Affairs Division. Fabulous Fashion is also supported by French Hand Laundry, PMH’s Textile Arts Council, Style on Green, High Low Vintage, New Moon Textiles, Wearable Art Connection of Southern California, Roberta Dumas, Suzanne Ehrmann, Elissa De Angelo, Dr. Elizabeth Smalley, Susan Stevens, and Ann Wallace.

Want to learn more about the fashion on display? Check out the Curator’s Blog.

Check out the concurrent online exhibition, where the public was invited to share their own family photos that showcase fabulous fashion throughout the decades!

Interested in textile arts? Consider joining our Textile Arts Council.

Images: Selections from Fabulous Fashion, photos by Aaron Gil, www.fotonuova.com.