A Review: Philadelphia in Style at the Michener.

Fashion at the Michener? Like the writer James A.? Yes, there is a museum dedicated to writer James A. Michener, and it’s nestled in Doylestown, PA. While the museum is best-known for its permanent collection of Pennsylvania Impressionist painters, it does present exhibits such as Philadelphia in Style: A Century of Fashion.  The garments are on loan from Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, and are a mere sample of the fashions worn by some upper-crust members of the Philadelphia set over the span of the last century (or just about the last century!).

Some beautiful Nan Duskin fashion illustrations with fabric swatches.
Some beautiful Nan Duskin fashion illustrations with fabric swatches.

I’d been to the Michener before, but not in many years. I recalled that it was a relatively small museum, and its focus wasn’t fashion or costume history, so I wasn’t sure quite what to expect while attending this particular exhibit, which started out with an absolute BANG!

The blue dress is unlabeled, but ca 1903. In my quasi-professional opinion, it does look like the scrolled appliqués were added at a later time.
The blue dress is unlabeled, but ca 1903. In my quasi-professional opinion, it does look like the scrolled appliqués were added at a later time.

The details on the dresses from the early 1900s were, of course, positively exquisite, even if the pigeon-breasted look isn’t one of my favorite fashion eras.

This plaid number actually had two, interchangeable bodices (one for day and one for evening), and the use of the fabric itself, in addition to pleated details, really makes this a great fashion specimen!
This plaid number (1907) actually had two, interchangeable bodices (one for day and one for evening), and the use of the fabric itself, in addition to pleated details, really makes this a great fashion specimen!

Next up were the 1920s, a time ripe with beautiful, unique and strange fashion, and the examples on display represented the era wonderfully.

Three very different examples of mid-1920s fashion. While the dress on the right is an explosion of visuals, it was amazing in its intricacy of appliqués and beading.
Three very different examples of mid-1920s fashion. While the dress on the right is an explosion of visuals, it was amazing in its intricacy of appliqués and beading.

Once we get into the 1930s, the exhibit took a bit of a down turn. The dresses from the 1930s were lovely enough, but lacked the pizzazz of the 1900s-20s gowns. Even the Schiaparelli wasn’t enough to really keep me interested in what was, stylistically, a really amazing time in fashion.

Some spiffy accessories, ranging from 1926 (the mesh bag), to 1937 (those awesome shoes).
Some spiffy accessories, ranging from 1926 (the mesh bag), to 1937 (those awesome shoes).

The 1940s and 1950s were lumped together on the same platform, which was disappointing, although there were some intriguing details to be seen, at least.

That is a snappy suit from the 40s! And the use of the stripes in the jacket are a really nifty detail.
That is a snappy suit from the 40s! And the use of the stripes in the jacket are a really nifty detail.

The 1960s were one of the last truly inventive and wonderful periods of fashion, and some of the pieces in this exhibit were pretty cool, but others were less-than-lovely, with unattractive and strange (and somewhat surprising) color combinations.

Super-Duper Sixties Style, from the sheath shape to the floral print.
Super-Duper Sixties Style, from the sheath shape to the floral print.

Personally, the 1970s had very little in the way of redeemable fashion value. There was a lot of tacky going on, and there were loads of not particularly attractive silhouettes, styles or color combinations.

The 1970s. Yikes!
The 1970s. Yikes!

Love ’em or hate ’em, parts of 1980s and 90s fashion have made it back into popular and recently current fashion trends. What was on display from this time period was mostly a variety of power suits, in addition to a couple of dresses. The variety is almost startlingly different, but the pieces, independently of each other, were pretty interesting.

The wiiiiiiide array of styles from the 1980s through the 90s.
The wiiiiiiide array of styles from the 1980s through the 90s.

Overall, the exhibit was quaint but underwhelming, and had some particularly unattractive frocks on display, mingled with some really beautiful garments and other accessories– it was the accessories and illustrations on display that I found particularly intriguing.  Additionally, I really enjoy learning some of the history behind what’s on display, and the information provided in Philadelphia in Style is very general–  If you’re in the area, however, the Michener is a wonderful museum to visit, especially for its permanent collection of artwork.

Some exquisite little 1920s fashion illustrations!
Some exquisite little 1920s fashion illustrations!

Do you plan on visiting, or have you already visited, any  costume and fashion exhibits lately? Is there a great exhibit you’d like to share with us? Go ahead and leave a comment below!

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