What They’re Wearing: Spectrum of Fashion Gala at the Maryland Historical Society

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My go-to ice breaker at any social gathering is to ask people what they are wearing. I don’t think it’s frivolous to inquire about sartorial choices because clothing is our most direct form of human communication, a visual translation of our personality and values. I am often flummoxed by the strange array of stuff in my closet and how to wear it, so I’m always curious to learn more about what people choose to wear and why, followed by the inevitable anecdote about how they acquired the garment, shoes, or jewelry, which leads into a deeper conversation.

I assumed that a gala opening for a historical exhibition of fashion, as well as a runway show featuring Baltimore’s most stylish designers, would yield beautiful choices in clothing among those in attendance—and I wasn’t wrong. Guests for the Spectrum of Fashion Gala at the Maryland Historical Society on October 5, 2019, showed up wearing gowns, tuxedos, sequins, feathers, capes, and Christian Siriano originals, as well as creative offerings like a metal steampunk hat I only admired from a distance and a couple wearing Bhutanese gowns and boots.

It’s an anthropological exercise, capturing Baltimore’s creative nightlife and talking to people about their clothing. My goal is always to paint a picture of a city teeming with style that is authentic and also completely defies Baltimore’s image in mainstream media. I have the utmost respect for those who design garments, jewelry, and all sorts of creative adornment—and we feature their work regularly at BmoreArt, because their work is art, and in many ways is much more accessible and relevant than the art hanging in a gallery, so this event and exhibit was even more important to me to capture in an genuine way.

As the Maryland Historical Society unlocked one of its greatest archival treasures, its Fashion Archive, to patrons, trustees, artists, and fashion designers, I wanted to record—in gorgeous photos by Jill Fannon, who regularly shoots our Wearable Art photo essays—a side of Baltimore that is elegant, decadent, unconventional, and gorgeous. I also wanted to create the photos onsite at the MdHS because its institutional vibe provided a visual contrast with the guests, but also a rich, historic context from which to ponder larger questions that I would like to consider further.

· Who is Baltimore?
· Why do we choose to live here?
· How do artists enrich the cultural landscape for everyone in this city?
· How does art create opportunities for artists and patrons, people of all classes and backgrounds, to engage meaningfully and productively?
· How can institutions, historically closed to most artists of their own region, create spaces and opportunities for artists to be seen, heard, and supported?

I’m not sure we answered all of these questions in the photos we selected for this essay, but it’s a  start. You do gain a clear sense of the vibrancy of the event and the purposeful nature of the adornment people chose for an evening designed to celebrate Maryland’s rich history of fashion. –Cara Ober

Photo Essay: Garments from the Spectrum of Fashion Exhibition at MdHS and What They’re Wearing photos from the Spectrum of Fashion Gala

All Photos by Jill Fannon

Silk Damask Dress, Fabric c. 1740, Dress 1838–1840, Worn by
Elizabeth Evans Hoogewerff (1803–1888)

(L-R) Wool Dress, 1948, Designed by Claire McCardell, Worn by Claire McCardell (1905–1958), Silk Satin and Silk Velvet Evening Dress, 1922–1925, Likely made in France, Worn by Amelia Prescott Allison (1899–1989), and Silk Satin Robe à la Polonaise , 1780–1785, Wearer Unknown 

Sophia Dudley wearing her own original design, with Jody Davis dress in background

Silk and Linen Crop Top, Skirt, and Shorts, 1969–1970 , Designed by Madame Grés (1903–1993), Worn by the Duchess of Windsor (Wallis Warfield Spencer Simpson)

Elaine Rice Bachmann wearing vintage pants and top from Petticoat Lane in Annapolis

Polyester Knit Pantsuit, 1969-70, Designed by Max “Mr. Dino” Cohen (active late 1960s and ’70s) with Printed Cotton and Wool Knit Dress, 1955, Designed by Claire McCardell (1905-58), with additional posters and decorative arts

Jody Davis, a featured designer in the exhibition, wearing her own design and Curator Alexandra Deutsch wearing original Bishme Cromartie designed for her

Runway model Tia Mitchell wearing a Milk & Ice Vintage 1960s leather & suede trench coat over a vintage Diane von Furstenburg maxi dress

Allison Tolman, Vice President of Collections and Interpretation at the Maryland Historical Society,
wearing Jill Andrews, with Mike Tolman in clothes by (he says) ? people?

Lesley Deyesu wearing dress from Love Me Two Times consignment boutique
and shoes by Valentino

Curt Decker wearing costume/cape from BSA, hand-painted by a student and worn as Drosselmeyer in The Nutcracker

Christian Siriano wearing his own design and Stephanie Bradshaw, producer of the Fashion show, wearing Saloni, both next to Sirano’s silk evening dress, 2018

Model wearing clothing by Katwalk Boutique

Makiya Edwards wearing prom dress by Niaomi

Center: Watered Silk Visiting Dress, 1868-1870, Probably French or English, Work by Margaretta Sophia Howard Ridgeley (1824-1904)

Caprece Jackson Garrett wearing lattice handmade by Akos for Regal Clothes with silver neoprene corset by Yvette Monique Couture

Art jeweler April Wood wearing Geode dress from Modcloth, Michaela Donsbach necklace, and Laura Wood silver and druzy earrings

Joy Singer wearing Christian Siriano and Aliza Friedlander wearing Dress the Population

Doug Hamilton wearing Bhutanese Gho and boots with
Julie Madden wearing vintage from an Eastern Shore boutique

Runway model wearing Bishme Cromartie dress

Silk Crêpe Evening Dress, 2009, American, Designed by Bishme Cromartie

Tonya Miller Hall wearing Cos and Badgley Mischka shoes and vintage feather jacket and Baltimore City Gallery curator Kirk Butts wearing vintage tuxedo and Frye boots

Runway model wearing tuxedo by Gough & Randolph

Christian Siriano with BmoreArt Editor Cara Ober, wearing dress by Joie from ReDeux, shoes by Valentino, and earrings by Nikki Couppee

Katherine Stinchcomb wearing Macy’s juniors with a wrap by Charming Charlie’s

Center: Silk Chiffon and Lamé Evening Dress, 1922–1926, Worn by Mrs. Marion Booz Galleher (1898–1992), flanked by (L) Silk Dress, 1868, Worn by Mrs. Reverdy Johnson and (R) Velvet Evening Dress, Winter 1911, Designed by Jeanne Paquin (1869–1936), Worn by Mrs. Alice Lee Thomas Stevenson (1884–1972) and (Far R) Cotton Dress, 1970, Worn by Nancy Lee Kimmel (1948–1976)

Max Weiss wearing Free People and Instagram Jacket with vintage pants from her mother

Guests at the gala admiring Silk Damask Pelisse, 1815–1820, possibly worn by Eliza Eichelberger Ridgely (1803–1867)

Setting the scene at MdHS for the Spectrum Runway Show


The MdHS Fashion Archive was born from the rediscovery of the museum’s costume collection, beginning in 2008. For nearly 30 years, thousands of treasures, dating from the 18th to the 21st century, remained in storage like a time capsule waiting to be reopened.

In 2011, exhibitions throughout the institution began to incorporate glimpses of the costume collection and the public response was overwhelmingly positive. By 2012, the dream of creating a world-class costume exhibition was conceived. In summer 2015, the curatorial staff launched an initiative to revitalize this collection and quickly learned two things—first, the collection was in excellent condition and, second, the depth of this collection was beyond what the curatorial staff had previously imagined.

The Fashion Archive contains more than 14,000 articles of clothing and accessories spanning four centuries. It is the largest and most comprehensive fashion archive in the state, and one of the preeminent costume collections in the nation.

This story is from Issue 08: Archive, available here.

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