Library Gallery exhibit shows 120 years of how Sacramentans dressed – and fashion’s social impact

Library Gallery exhibit shows 120 years of how Sacramentans dressed – and fashion’s social impact

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The “Dressing Sacramento: 120 Years of Fashion”The exhibit, which runs through Oct. 8 in the Sac State Library Gallery, includes archival photos from local people and places that place fashion in historical, social, or cultural contexts. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

Sacramento State is opening up its closet to reveal a vast historical collection clothes and accessories that are so amazing even fashionistas might be Hornet green with envy.

“Dressing Sacramento: 120 Years of Fashion,” on display in the University Library Gallery through Oct. 8, is the public’s first glimpse of the Sacramento State Costume Collection, which features apparel worn during different fashion eras, from the 1860s through the 1980s and beyond.

The collection includes a Civil War-era, mourning gown and an intricately beaded ensemble “flapper”Dresses from the 1920s, lace gloves and pillbox hats. Also purses, shoes, jewelry, and purses.

“It’s a hidden treasure,”Professor Dong Shen is the Fashion Merchandising and Management program coordinator. “There are so many stories and so much history embedded in those pieces.

“We have a responsibility to present them to a bigger audience.”

The collection was housed in a glassless, climate controlled storage room at Mariposa Hall. Over the years, more than 500 pieces were donated by faculty, staff, community members and local businesses.

They were never cataloged and shown to the public.

“Our department accesses it all the time,” said FASH Lecturer Taylor Anderson. “Instructors will go into the closets of the collection and bring out pieces, but mainly for the purpose of design reference or showing students certain techniques or construction.

“But we’d really love to showcase it to the greater Sacramento community and the rest of the Sac State community, not just students taking our classes in the fashion program.”

Shen knew from the moment she first saw the collection, more than 20-years ago, that she wanted to display it.

“I was dying to do something with it,”Shen teaches fashion and consumer-related courses at the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences. “But it was not my area of expertise.”

Shen said that Anderson was her ideal candidate, as Anderson’s background is in fashion history and sociology.

They started cataloguing the collection in fall 2018. However, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented an exhibit from opening. It was repeatedly delayed until it finally opened. “Dressing Sacramento”The doors finally opened in August.

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The exhibit includes stunning pieces dating back as far as 1860, taking visitors through the Roaring Twenties, World War II, the turbulent 1960s, and excess of the ’80s, before ending with outfits created by Sac State students in 2019.

“Dressing Sacramento”Does more than highlight fashion trends.

Paired with archival photos of local people and places, the exhibit puts fashion into historic, social, and cultural context, such as a Prohibition-era, loose, drop-waisted dress designed to swing to jazz music at dance halls such as the M Street Cafe in Sacramento’s old Japantown.

“Fashion is something that is so easily dismissed because we just take it for granted,”Anderson said. “But really, fashion is a medium and a platform for discussing so many aspects of our culture, our society, our history, our politics, and human behavior.”

Veronica Kandl, Center for Sacramento History curator helped Anderson select photos from Sacramentans by giving her suggestions and access to an internet database of images.

“I’m just really happy we’re starting to collaborate,”Kandl stated. “We like to get our collection used and to collaborate with schools.

“We’ve worked with Sac State interns before, but never from the fashion program. So, to me, it’s really exciting. I like to see our collection used more, and I think it’s going to be really interesting for people to see.”

A nearly $3,000 grant from University Enterprises, Inc. paid for photo enlargements and acid-free, archival materials to make displays that would not damage the exhibit pieces’ fragile fabrics.

Many of the historic pieces don’t fit contemporary mannequins, so Anderson and her students had to build special dress forms with 20-inch waists and an S-shaped silhouette popular during Edwardian times.

One student even built a historically accurate cage crinoline, petticoat, and mourning dress to go under it. It was made from a hand-sewn mourning gown that dates back to the 1860s.

“Without these structures, the dress just won’t lay right. It might work, but it’s not going to look the way it looked when it walked down the street,”Anderson said.

 Continue the story below.

Fashion Merchandising and Management (FASH) Lecturer Taylor Anderson and Dong Shen, FASH program coordinator, set up an 1860s mourning dress on a student-constructed cage crinoline and petticoat display.
Fashion Merchandising and Management (FASH) Lecturer Taylor Anderson, left, and Dong Shen, FASH program coordinator, work with a cage crinoline and petticoat display constructed by a student to accurately display a handsewn mourning dress dating to the 1860s. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

The University hopes to share the collection with all those who donated them. Anderson and Shen said they hope senior centers and schools will organize trips to the exhibition.

“When our students see the work, they see the value in the fascinating facts behind those pieces,”Shen said. “Can you imagine if we bring in different age groups, like seniors, who can see the history they lived through? Or the impact it could have on high school and junior high kids?”

FASH is currently cataloguing all of the Sacramento State Costume Collections and making them available online to the public.

“Dressing Sacramento: 120 Years of Fashion”The event will continue through October 8. A reception will be held from 5-8 pm on Thursday, Sept. 8. Opening remarks will begin at 6 p.m.

The University Library Gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesday through Friday, and noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday.

For more information, please call (916) 2784-4189.

Five of the clothing outfits from eras between the 1860s and 1980s, on display as part of Sacramento State's
This collection features various clothing pieces from the 1860s to the 1980s, including the ones shown here. “Dressing Sacramento: 120 Years of Fashion,”Through Oct. 8, it will be on display at the University Library Gallery. It is the public’s first glimpse of the Sacramento State Costume Collection. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)


Jennifer K. Morita

Jennifer K. Morita joined Sacramento State as a student in 2022. Former Sacramento Bee newspaper reporter, she has spent many years working freelance and being a mother. When she isn’t chauffeuring her two daughters, she enjoys reading mysteries, experimenting with recipes, and Zumba.

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