Be still, my beating heart. Momu, the Antwerp fashion museum, is currently running its first historic exhibition that deals with women’s daily fashion from 1750 till 1950. What excites me so is that it aims to shatter the romanticised old fashion ideal that is often shown on a sterile and fanciful, high-class pedestal. Instead, Momu places its dresses on a floor that mimics cobblestones and juxtaposes them with photographs of women doing their own thing, wearing their daily outfits, and by doing so present this as old street style. Sports-, summer-, travel-, morning-, noon- and street-wear finally get to be outshone by evening dresses.
The entire exhibition focuses on daily wear of the rising middle class rather than the all too common haute couture and evening dresses, which are often more elaborate, expensive and even more restrictive. This confronts the viewer immediately as the pair of dresses you first lay eyes upon are each other’s expensive and relatively cheap counterparts, which beg you to think of class differences for a refreshing change.
One thing I just cannot get out of my head was the pregnancy dresses and their respective corsets. Despite the frequency of pregnancies, seeing these dresses in any media, then or now, was exceptionally rare. It is equally understandable and surprising due to the fear of (especially female) sexuality while simultaneously pushing women into a perpetual child bearer’s position. Yeah, the dichotomy of forcing women into femininity while at the same time punishing us for it still feels painfully modern. It was confronting, creepy and perfectly fascinating.
Another thing I loved especially was seeing repurposed dresses, altered to the current fashion, or even down right ripped apart to make a completely new dress, which always leaves an individual touch and destroys our Hollywoodian concept of the ever-lasting elaborate and highly expensive wardrobe and the blank slate woman, incapable of thinking or doing; instead she shows us her age-old strength and creativity through the ages by cutting up and repurposing badass dresses.
Though the restrictiveness of this fashion may make us feel pitiful for these poor, meek females, this exhibition has left me feeling that just like when we today may chose to wear the tortuous garment of our choice because we were taught it feels innately more powerful, attractive and worthwhile but refusing to being totally represented by it, these women too didn’t let themselves be defined by their corsets and dresses but instead let themselves be heard in the smallest but coolest ways they could.
Last three pictures by aabb