Garden Party: Textiles and Clothing Inspired by Nature

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The natural world has proved to be a constant source of inspiration for textiles and clothing. We see the pervasiveness of the flora and fauna motifs in textiles from around the world and bygone eras. Floral motifs have long since held specific meanings for their culture. For example, the buta, or flower, was a symbol of prosperity in India, and was the earliest form of the paisley motif. It was block printed on traditional textiles and later sold in the European market during the 17th and 18th centuries. The cherry blossom is a symbol of the transience of life in Japan, and frequently found on kimonos and household textiles alike. Meanwhile in England, the Cabbage Rose became a symbol of Queen Victoria during the 19th century, and was incredibly pervasive in textile design.

Garden Party: Textiles and Clothing Inspired by Nature examines the evolution and diverse use of this beloved theme in 20th century western dress. Influenced by a gamut of art movements, styles, and techniques, floral motifs abounded in fashion. From the outset of the 1900s, Art Nouveau, with its natural, curvilinear, Asian-inspired lines and floral motifs was inspiring curvaceous silhouettes, and large picture hats filled with flora and fauna. The opulence and modernity of the 1920s led to heavily embellished, daring styles that challenged the traditional ideals of womanhood. The “Make Do and Mend” campaign permeated the 1930s and 40s, and focused on a practicality of garments, with fashions featuring more subdued floral prints and embellishments. The 1950s exuded a very classic “Lady-like” appearance, with floral prints providing the perfect medium to create full-skirted designs. In contrast, floral motifs become politically charged with the 1960s and 70s Anti-War movement. Aptly named “Flower Children” were the patrons of these psychedelic floral prints. Big shoulders, big hair, and big prints dominated the 1980s; while the 90s focused on the individual interpretation of dress that led to a variety of popular styles and prints. Regardless of the societal differences between each decade, the beauty of nature has adapted to the ever changing fashions.

This exhibit is curated by Amanda Lensch and Jeanie Kirkpatrick.