For centuries, women’s fashion has instinctively changed how history plays out. From outer garments to underwear, clothing is a reflection of the political climates at any given point in time.
The Henry Morrison Flagler Museum portrays this phenomenon in its most recent exhibit, “Inside Out: Women’s Fashion from Foundation to Silhouette.”
“It is absolutely a feminsit issue,” self-proclaimed feminist Grace Abbot said. “What women wore then and what they wear now is extremely relevant.”
The exhibit examines the relationship between American women and their undergarments against a backdrop of fashion, sociological changes and political climate, according to the Flagler Museum’s website.
“The thing that occurred to me from the very beginning was the modification of women’s bodies for advertising and marketing,” San Angelo Museum Director Howard Taylor said. “It’s not a new idea by any means.”
Since the late 1700s, the roles of women in American society have shaped, and been shaped by, what women wear and feminist movements, according to the Flagler Museum’s website.
“One time I just casually mentioned, I really didn’t mean it, an exhibit on the history of women’s underwear,” Taylor said. “The idea of the human body in Western culture is pervasive about the beauty of the human body, and I thought, ‘Well, I could do something with that.’”
The exhibit portrayed undergarments and women's accessories from seven different eras, all of which were extremely influential in American history.
“I started seeing underwear everywhere I’d go,” Taylor said. “In every age, women were trying to achieve a certain shape or silhouette, and so I should not just do underwear, but show that and explain how they achieve that silhouette. That was the idea that persisted.”
When Taylor discovered that the Louvre in Paris created a similar exhibit five years ago, it gave him courage that he wasn’t the only one tackling the topic.
Taylor and his team decided the exhibit would be exclusively American, as the American Revolution was a significant turning point for women’s fashion, according to Taylor.
“Walking around the exhibit, it was really centered around what kinds of corsets and undergarments women were forced to wear,” Abbot said. “I never even thought about how much [women’s fashion] has changed since then.”
Taylor, along with undergarment experts, historians and professional mold makers, brought the exhibit to life.
“With each era there is a door that sort of symbolizes that era, so you really get to see the unveiled thing and how the silhouette was built,” Taylor explained. “Each era is colorized with a collection of what was popular with color design of each era.”
While Taylor was initially hesitant about an exhibit on women’s underwear, the idea grew into a highly influential portrayal of feminist history.
“The exhibit took a lot of planning, a lot of marketing and a lot of advertising,” Taylor said. “We made a lot of changes for it to be what it is.”
By Sofia Jas