Fashion IRL

· How seeing clothes in person offers a fresh perspective ·

In our hyper-visual world, we’ve become accustomed to seeing images on a screen. Phone screen, computer screen, TV screen, we consume our images via a digital screen more often than not. While this allows high fashion and historical fashion to be accessible to almost everyone in a way it wasn’t before, some things are lost in translation. Even seeing images on the pages of a glossy magazine reveal something we may have missed on a screen. In some ways, this could be why fashion exhibitions are so appealing: it affords us an opportunity to see the clothing we normally see on a screen in the flesh.

While it’s important to be able to see many objects in real life in order to fully appreciate the details and nuances, this is especially true of clothing. The material, embellishment, and construction of fashion is what makes it comprable to art and in many cases, this can only be fully appreciated in person. Sure, we can get high-quality close-up images of details, but if you’ve ever bought something online only to find it is a completely different garment than you thought it was, you’ll understand why it’s so important to see these pieces in person.

Take for instance, the archetypal Bar Suit from Dior’s 1947 New Look line. You can admire its feminine shape and simple elegance in photographs, but seeing it in the V&A’s Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams exhibition is one of those “this is why we still talk about this design today” moments. The construction of the pleats can only be described as dreamy while the cream jacket demonstrates adept couture skills. While you can certainly get a sense of this in photos, you can’t truly appreciate it unless you can see it in three dimensions in front of you.

It is also so hard to truly capture a fabric or embellishment in a photo. When Princess Eugenie got married in October last year, she wore a stunning Peter Pilotto gown. Watching the wedding on TV and looking at photos online after, the creamy fabric looked like a smooth silk satin. However, seeing it on display at Windsor Castle, it was surprising to find that the material had subtle ribbing and looked much heavier than it did in photos. A similar thing happened with costumes from The Favourite at Kensington Palace. Watching the movie in a theater, it was clear that the costumes told their own story, but it wasn’t until seeing them in person that the kitchen maid costumes were made from a denim material. Had I not seen them in person, I may have never known this nuanced use of a unique material in the period film.

Yet another benefit of seeing clothing in person is getting a sense of size and an intimate peek into a person’s life through their clothing. This pertains especially to clothes worn by famous people. It can be hard to fully grasp how tall or small a person is through pictures and seeing their clothes is often unexpected. In my experience, the clothing often shows a smaller frame than I anticipate. Perhaps this is because these people seem larger than life, but I am often struck by how small clothes look compared to what I imagine. This happened with Meghan Markle’s wedding dress at Windsor Castle; the gown presented a shorter frame than she seems in images. Similarly, while Princess Margaret always looked slim in images in her twenties, nothing prepared me for how truly tiny her waist size was when I saw a dress she wore to Ascot at the Fashion Museum in Bath. A series of dresses further drive home her petite frame. Seeing these items give an intimate peek into public figures’ lives, giving us a sense of what they look like in person and allowing us to be witness something that had been so close to them. These are things that can not be captured in an image.

There is something to be said of going to a fashion exhibition and seeing garments in person. It offers an opportunity to appreciate the detail invested in the creation of the pieces and it offers new perspectives. While it’s amazing that we can see all of these from the comfort of our homes in an instant, nothing can replace the experience of seeing them in person.


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