Field Trip: “The Anatomy of a Suit,” Museum of London

Readers,

The letter-writing mood has struck again.

The entire exhibit is visible in this photo.

The entire exhibit is visible in this photo.

To the Director of Collections and Learning, Museum of London

Dear Director:

The Museum of London website says that Timothy Long is the curator of your show “The Anatomy of a Suit,” but I’m writing because there  has to be a mistake. I wanted you to know so you could correct it straightaway.

You see, I saw that stunning show that he worked on, “Chic Chicago,” at the Chicago History Museum in 2009, and even bought the companion book. I clearly remember raving to the woman in the museum shop who rang up my purchase. It wasn’t just that the clothes were beautiful, I said, it was that they were displayed so well for us curious viewers who wanted to get the closest look we could. I asked her to pass my appreciation on to the museum staff.

The companion book for an outstanding show that curator Timothy Long helped to create.

The companion book for an outstanding show that curator Timothy Long helped to create.

But “The Anatomy of a Suit” was nothing like “Chic Chicago.” It was more like “Dim Duds.”

Taking a dim view: lighting for the exhibit certainly created a mood.

Taking a dim view: lighting for the exhibit certainly created a mood but not the one intended.

It was a month ago, when I was checking London museum events online and planning what I’d do on my days off from “Tailoring with Savile Row Tailors,” that I came across the description and video of “The Anatomy of a Suit.” “What perfect timing!” I thought. “Maybe one of my classmates would want to come with me. I’ll want to write this up for my readers. Maybe a few more people will go and enjoy the show because they learned about it from my post.”IMG_4601 (345x460)

A couple of weeks ago, after browsing the pop-up vintage fair at Old Spitalfields Market, I walked over to the Museum of London. I always have a devil of a time finding the entrance, but once inside I’m always glad I came. What a remarkable institution the Museum of London is! And I had no idea you had a dress and fashion collection of 24,000 items! I would love to see it all.IMG_4599 (345x460)

Just beyond the Sackler Hall Café downstairs I happened upon “The Anatomy of a Suit.” From a distance I could see four mannequins dressed in jackets that had been partially taken apart.

Walking over to the exhibit and standing right in front of it, I was still at a distance from the mannequins. This was very curious.IMG_4596 (345x460)

I have been to fashion exhibits at

  • the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York
  • the Chicago History Museum
  • the Goldstein Museum of Design in St. Paul, Minnesota
  • the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid
  • the Victoria & Albert Museum  and Somerset House in London, and
  • the Fashion Museum in Bath

but this was the first where I wished I’d brought sports binoculars.IMG_4597 (269x460)

Director, I’ll say this much: I left wanting more.

If you’ve been around avid sewers, you know how they like to look at garments closely: inside and out, front, back–nothing escapes their notice. They may reach right out and pinch a bit of your sleeve or turn back a jacket opening to look at the lining. It’s almost always meant as a compliment. They understand and appreciate the care it takes to produce good work.IMG_4603 (460x236)

Anyone designing a show like “The Anatomy of a Suit” would do well to cater to this desire to learn through touch as well as sight. If, however, allowing visitors to touch garments is out of the question, then it is that much more important that the visuals–text, video, and garments–work together to help them understand what they’re seeing.IMG_4604 (460x264)

Sewers tend to be curious and eager to learn, generous and supportive. They understand that in any worthy endeavor there may be frustrating moments calling for patience.

IMG_4605 (460x244)

I sure didn’t know about padding in the hips. I am supposing it might be used on one side to create balance. I am not seeing an example of this in the four jackets.

So I’m not discouraged. I just want you to know that visitors like us sewers will want to see the 24,000 objects in your fashion collection as close-up and from as many angles as possible.  Sewers, like all makers, have a natural interest in seeing how other makers have defined and solved the problems in their craft.

If you give us this, we will leave your exhibits wanting more–and I mean that in the best possible way.

From Chic Chicago, a suit by Mainbocher from 1958.

From Chic Chicago, a suit by Mainbocher from 1958. What delightful details!

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6 thoughts on “Field Trip: “The Anatomy of a Suit,” Museum of London

  1. Wow. What a disappointment. We are going to London in a couple of weeks and were considering going to this exhibit. I’ll still go to the museum – the Cheapside Hoard is supposedly still on exhibit, but I won’t bother with this.

    • If you haven’t seen the Victoria & Albert Museum’s fashion gallery since it reopened in 2012, I think you’d enjoy that, Toby. I will be writing about it soon.

  2. I went to the FIT exhibit on the influence of gay people on fashion and couldn’t see very well either. You couldn’t walk around the exhibits and sometimes three or four garments were in a column.

  3. You must send this letter! I’m thinking the exhibit is intended for those who have no knowledge of tailoring . Anyone that would set up such an exhibit intended to teach or show in detail to sewers or tailors should be aware of the irony that dim lighting and distance creates. Thanks for sharing this!!

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