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Concord Museum's historic clothing comes out of the closet
Blue boots.

CONCORD, MASS.- On March 2 through July 8, 2018, the Concord Museum will unveil a portion of its extensive historic clothing collection for the first time, along with textiles and decorative arts in a new exhibition: Fresh Goods: Shopping for Clothing in a New England Town, 1750 – 1900.

How do you shop for clothes? Do you go to a department store, buy online or through catalogues, shop locally at specialty shops, or sew your own? How did Concordians in the 18th and 19th centuries acquire their clothes? Who were the style-setters? Fresh Goods examines these questions about the sources and context of small-town New England fashion and documents the answers drawing upon its collection. As the first exhibition in a year-long Mass Fashion collaborative with eight leading cultural institutions, Fresh Goods also draws on account books, advertisements, photographs, and letters and diaries of the period.

As Curator David Wood stated, “The real stars of the show are a dozen 18th and 19th century examples of women’s, men’s and children’s clothing. Most have Concord histories, and few have been on view in recent past.” On the Museum’s runway – Fresh Goods fashions range from a Parisian dinner dress to a shoes made from silk brocade to a handmade everyday dress made with cotton milled in New England.

In addition to seeing how people shopped hundreds of years ago, visitors will also have an opportunity to virtually shop a cross section of the Museum’s clothing collection through a specially-designed interactive experience that utilizes a modern online shopping platform. The whimsical online site allows visitors to playfully select fans, bags, shoes, and clothing for their ideal 18th or 19th wardrobe.

Curator David Wood explained, “A novel and engaging element of Fresh Goods is the online shopping experience, with the objects of desire being examples from Concord Museum’s outstanding collection of clothing and accessories. An entertaining exercise in its own right, it is also a user-friendly portal into the wealth of information we have on these historic Concord objects.”

When Louisa May Alcott wrote in a letter, “I’ve got a new dress, gray silk, costing 90 cents per yard, thick, silvery, and very pretty in the piece,” she refers not to the dress, but the cloth it was made from. Before the age of ready-to-wear, it was the fabric one shopped for, not the garment. Pieces of cloth then might be taken to a dressmaker to be made into a garment, or the dress might be made at home.

Clothing conveys information about the wearer’s gender, age, rank, and wealth, as well as clues about subtler categories, such as taste, education, marital status, and aspiration. Through fourteen evocative documented outfits, the exhibition will consider the shopping habits of Concordians in the 18th and 19th centuries. The exhibit includes pieces made at home with fabric purchased at shops on Concord’s main streets, or made at the local workplaces of seamstresses, tailors, and milliners. Clothing and accessories may have been purchased in Boston, New York, London, or Paris. Looking closely at these rare and rarely-displayed artifacts, visitors will be encouraged to compare their current conventions for choosing and buying clothing to people’s practices in the past.

The title of the exhibition, Fresh Goods, is taken from an 1818 newspaper ad for the Concord Shop of Josiah Davis announcing the sale of fabrics such as figured flannels, crimson, bombazettes, and white and black cambricks.

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