Gothic to Goth: A Review.

If you hadn’t noticed a theme in the type of museum exhibits that I like to frequent, other than costume and fashion shows in general, take a gander at Fashion Victims and Yesterday’s mourning. Thus, the Wadsworth Atheneum’s (located in Hartford, Connecticut) promising exhibit Gothic to Goth: Romantic Era’s Fashion and its Legacy was definitely on my list of must-see exhibitions.

Revenant #2
Revenant #2

Gothic to Goth started-out with a BANG: tons of amazing extant (and a couple historical recreations, apparently) garments, accessories and underthings, displayed alongside Romantic Era artwork and books from writers of the time. They were accompanied by placards explaining the correlation between the artistic and literary movements, and the relation to the the fashions and overall stylistic influences of the time.

The Past, by Thomas Cole, founder of the Hudso River School. Such sweeping, grand (and sometimes grandiose!) paintings are indicative of the Romantic Movement.
The Past, by Thomas Cole, founder of the Hudso River School. Such sweeping, grand (and sometimes grandiose!) paintings are indicative of the Romantic Movement.

Offering scads of beautifully- preserved garments from the early-to-mid 19th century, there were every-day dresses, wedding dresses, mourning dresses and even convertible maternity gowns and nursing bodices on display. In all of my years of scouring costume and historical fashion exhibits, this is the first time I have seen such garments! Menswear was present, but markedly less numerous. There were some beaded and/or hair  (yes,  human hair!) watch chains on view, as well.

This dress with lace shawl was one of many highlights of the extant garments on view at the exhibit.
This dress with lace shawl was one of many highlights of the extant garments on view at the exhibit.

Despite the full-steam approach of paper, paint, wood, silk, cotton and chantilly lace, the exhibit lost me at the ‘Goth’ room, which contained a handful of high-fashion outfits and some weird, banal ‘steampunk’ outfits that barely even earned that moniker. Now, don’t get me wrong: The ‘goth’ outfits includes an amazingly beautiful Alexander McQueen gown and outfit and a couple of Jean-Paul Gaultier creations, but there was no mention of how the subculture actually developed!

An American silk dress, circa 1840-45.
An American silk dress, circa 1840-45.

The exhibit touched on how the Romantic period was obviously influenced by both the Gothic period (12th-14th centuries) and the subsequent Renaissance period, but not how the Romantic (or ‘Gothic) movement led to modern Goth.  It began in the late 1970s but developed throughout the ’80s, eventually blossoming into its own sub-cultures and genres. The budding Goth period is rife with dark and gritty beauty, but none of that was touched upon in the exhibit. No mention of the music, movies, personalities or theft-store-castoff mentality that truly inspired the fashions of the time. The accompanying book to the exhibit (Gothic to Goth, by Lynne Zacek Basset) provides a skosh more information, but it’s not all present in the exhibit.

Mourning attire
Mourning attire for adults and children! The image is linked to (and is from) another interesting review of the exhibit.

What’s the summary? Go for the Romantic gowns, but don’t hold your breath if you’re looking for a hint of Siouxie Sioux or Peter Murphy. However, if you are in Hartford Connecticut, and looking to spend some time enriching yourself, definitely take the time to visit the Wadsworth Atheneum!

Gothic to Goth: Romantic Era Fashion and its Legacy runs until July 10, 2016.


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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