Small Museum, Big Potential

Another Kansas City museum we visited earlier this year was the Garment District History Museum. It’s currently located in the 800 block of Broadway, in the heart of what was the garment district of the city, but in the coming year will relocate to larger premises in a city cultural park with other museums, but I just couldn’t retain those details as I found myself being rather too generously informed by a female docent with and encyclopedic knowledge garnered over decades of close involvement in the historical society.

Every museum visitor has a slightly different reason for entering and looking around – we always split up and explore museums as individuals, each enjoying our own self-focused approach at our own pace, just sometimes circling back to make sure someone doesn’t miss something special. To me, visiting a museum is a blissful, almost private personal experience. Many good museums, large and small, have wandering knowledgeable docents and security supervisors of whom we are aware, but they keep a discreet if watchful distance, and just sometimes we hope they’ll be able to answer a question or direct us somewhere relevant. I eventually had to escape this lady saying “That’s all so interesting, thank you very much; and now I’d just like to quietly choose and photograph some things to post on my blog.” … walking away before she could renew her invasion of my space. I don’t know why others in our group weren’t paid as much attention as I received, perhaps I was clearly more interested in the garments!

Some wonderful gowns are on show. They would be so much better displayed without the distracting background panels, but that will change, I am sure when the museum moves premises. Below is a detail of the sleeve of the gown on the left.
This figure-hugging deep blue velvet gown, was originally worn as a wedding dress. Sleeves and collar feature devore work in art deco motif style, it was all bias cut, so hung beautifully. Stunning, dramatic.
Green is my favourite colour, and this magnificent gown is by Dior, from his 1947 New Look’ collection (which I appreciate so much more now having seen the Dior exhibition a couple of months after this museum visit) Featuring cinched waist, fuller padded hips, and neckline and sleeves lined with stiffened net for shaping.

Essentially we spent a couple of interesting hours in the two parts of this very interesting museum. Despite the docent’s strong recommendation, I skipped taking a closer a look at the giant needle and thread sculpture which I could see perfectly well from the entrance … it could have been a great photo op., though, maybe next time.

Seemingly just slung on a display rack recycled from a disappeared department store !! There was no date on this hat or any of the others on the rack, from various eras in my 65+years of fashion memory. I always loved these hats from the mid to late 60s. Mum and a couple of wedding guests wore similar ones to our wedding in early 1969. It’s tempting to say ‘tea cosy’, but really it’s an ornate pill box, originally popularised in the mid 60s by Jackie Kennedy.

What is currently on show is just a tiny percentage of the city’s huge collection of garments and accessories, hardly surprising considering that Kansas City’s garment district in its time was second in size and importance only to New York City’s. Quoting from the museum’s website “The Kansas City Museum has one of the largest and best represented collections of clothing materials in the Midwest, including couture gowns, day dresses, uniforms, overalls, shoes, hats, buttons, and everything in between,” Kansas City Museum Director of Collections and Curatorial Services Denise Morrison said. “Additionally, the Museum collection includes examples of many kinds of quilts and coverlets. The enhanced programming opportunities are endless and will strengthen the Museum’s educational impact. We look forward to partnering with other museums and academic institutions to serve students and scholars.”

The amalgamated collections of the city and the society will benefit greatly with the application of modern display methods and well designed educational materials.

From what we saw, this is a typical historical society museum, where so often enthusiasm to share and educate generously outbalances good display principles. ( for example, the backdrop to the green dior gown is so unnecessary and quite distracting) However, hopefully in the hands of experienced curators it will soon be presented in more space using modern museum exhibit standards and techniques, where so often ‘less = more’

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