Visit the Charleston Museum

By:Amy Holtcamp

Date:12/4/2011

There’s something about seeing historical garments that brings the past to life like nothing else. It makes those silent faces hanging on the walls of a museum with their high, powdered wigs or unbelievable facial hair seem less distant, more like us. After all, they got dressed in the morning just like we do. They wore that dress, that vest, that coat, just like we’re wearing our leggings, mini skirts and puffer coats now.

That’s why the Historic Textiles Gallery at The Charleston Museum is so exciting. This exhibit space is dedicated to the museum’s extensive collection of period textiles and clothing.

Recent exhibits in the gallery demonstrate the diversity of this fascinating collection. Among them is "Piece by Piece: Geometric Quilts," featuring beautiful patchwork quilts created by arranging squares, rectangles, triangles, diamonds, hexagons and curved shapes into a myriad of intricate geometric designs. Viewing the quilts, you'll walk away amazed at how fabric scraps can be transformed into such stunning, yet practical, works of art.

"Coat Check," one of the first exhibits in the gallery, offered visitors a peek inside the wardrobe of Charleston's fashionable past. The retrospective included historic outerwear worn in Charleston over the last 200 years. Fur coats might not be politically correct now, but they were certainly in style when Charleston author Josephine Pinckney wore the one featured in the display. And the wool capes we use as costume pieces today were de rigueur fashion accessories in the early 20th century.

Today, women look to celebrities, magazines like Vogue, or Project Runway for fashion inspiration, but in the 1700-1800s, fashionistas looked to “fashion plates,” illustrations published in French magazines for guidance on creating their “look. ”Fashion Plates: Illustrating History's Latest Styles, 1760s-1920s" paired historical garments and accessories with the antique drawings that inspired them.

Along with Historic Textiles, The Charleston Museum features several other permanent exhibits, including the Bunting Natural History Gallery, Lowcountry History Hall, The Armory, Early Days, Charleston Silver and City Under Siege.

The Charleston Museum is open Monday-Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. Admission is $12 for adults and $5 for children,

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