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The premier publications for high-quality, hyperlocal news and announcements in Monmouth County, New Jersey

Feb 10, 2022

Historical Society Presents Rotating Fashion Exhibits

By Lori Draz

House of Worth bodice

Located a short ride to the north is Morris County Historical Society (MCHS). Founded in 1946 and located at Acorn Hall since 1971, MCHS is one of the leading historical societies in New Jersey and maintains one of the state’s largest collections of historic textiles. Comprised of pieces from the 18th to 20th centuries, the depth of its extensive collection is featured in rotating exhibits. From bridal gowns to house dresses to children’s play clothes and an extensive array of accessories, MCHS’s ability to interpret cultural history through clothing is uniquely impressive.

Opening Sunday, April 3, MCHS’s ground-breaking exhibit of nearly 50 never-before-seen bodices is designed to feature pieces ranging from skillfully homemade garments to those produced by some of the most renowned European fashion houses.  

Anne Motto, curator of collections at the Morris County Historical Society, explained that “From the Waist Up” exhibit was inspired by an elegant and bold 1890s bodice long held in MCHS’s collections, but bearing no record of ever being displayed. 

Riding jacket with buttons from an unknown union soldier’s uniform

“During the 19th and early 20th centuries in particular, ladies frequently kept several bodices, such as a casual bodice for daytime and formal bodice for evening, to match a particular skirt,” Motto said. “Thus, skirts often received much more wear. As time marched forward and pieces were handed down, the tattered skirt was discarded, while a nearly pristine bodice was preserved and sometimes modified. ‘From the Waist Up’ features a wide variety of extraordinary, but solitary pieces from 1840 to 1920 that illustrate changes in our cultural history through both style and construction of the garments.”

In addition to the stunning 1890s piece, which had no maker’s label, the collection also includes a spectacular circa-1880s champagne silk bodice from the House of Worth, a world-famous Parisian fashion house. Often finding inspiration in historic portraiture, designer Charles Frederick Worth’s ornately embellished pieces can be considered works of art in their own right. Seen here at an angle in order to highlight the Elizabethan-inspired collar, this precious evening bodice is adorned with hundreds of silk-threaded glass beads. As the silk thread is now too fragile to support their weight, the bodice is too delicate to display vertically.  

Another of the items is a mid-1860s jacket, likely a riding jacket. Its buttons are from an unknown union soldier’s uniform.

The exhibit promises to be a show stopper, taking visitors on a journey through evolutions in fashion during those world-changing decades. Guided tours include Acorn Hall, its 10 historic rooms and the exhibit. MCHS is open for tours Tuesday, Wednesdays, and Thursdays 11 am to 4 pm, Sundays 1 to 4 pm and by appointment. Appointments are recommended for groups of 10 or more. Acorn Hall is located at 68 Lafayette Ave. in Morristown. For more information, see MorrisCountyHistory.org, email MCHSAcornHall@gmail.com or call 973-267-3465.