I currently live in Philadelphia, PA. I am not a huge fan of Philly. Philly is, for lack of better words, a dying city. It's clear, when one walks around Center City or certain parts of various neighborhoods, that Philly was once a grand city. The late-Colonial to early 20th century architecture is beautiful. There are some incredibly stately Victorian and Empire houses around my neighborhood (I live in West Philadelphia). However, it's not unusual to have one block of beautiful, stately houses abutting a block of boarded up ramshackle houses (with the exception of Center City and Society Hill). It's very... sad. This is one of the first and oldest cities in all of the USA and a lot of really important people (across varied disciplines) lived here, a lot of vitally important events took place in Philadelphia. Yet, this is a city that remains, in my opinion, largely forgotten and over looked. Hell, this city even over looks it's own historical value and importance. And perhaps rightfully so, as Philly is a pretty broke city, with little resources available to those who need them the most, and an ever increasing crime rate (one month into the year and Philly's homicide total is 32 bodies). In general, Philadelphia makes me sad if for no other reason than I also lived in Boston, MA and had an incredibly different experience. The two in some ways are vary similar (there's a bit of racism in both, a definite ghetto in both, and both are hugely important to early-American history). Yet, to me, Boston seemed to be a city with a lot more hope and promise. I never, for example, had a problem finding work--even temporary work--in Boston. It's been a struggle here in Philly. But in an effort to make Philly more "me friendly" (and because we're here for at least another year if not longer) I'm actively seeking out positive things in Philadelphia
Friends, I found one: The Drexel Historic Costume Collection. And it is GLORIOUS.
I promised the lovely curator that I wouldn't post pictures out to the internet. I'm going to respect her wishes. If you really want to see the lovely--and I mean LOVELY--items in this expansive collection just follow the link above. But let me say this: this collection is beyond amazing. It spans about 100 years, from the late 1800s all the way through the late 1900s. There are over 12,000 pieces in this collection including hats and shoes. Most of the pieces are high-fashion couture. Many are have hand sewn elements. The collection is currently housed in two large storerooms (we're talking storerooms with high warehouse type ceilings here). The first is floor to ceiling boxes, which may hold up to three dresses apiece. The second, and the one in which I got to see a few items, houses more boxes (full of hats, shoes, and dresses) and about six rows of hanging clothing (two racks--one high, one low). The racks are organized partly by date and partly by designer. Oh the designers! Folks, I got to see the evolution of the Chanel suit from the early Coco years all the way through the early 1990s (very little changes in that roughly 60+ years).
The collection exists solely because of the munificence of the Drexel family (the school founders) who donated a large portion of the late 1800s, early 1900s portion of the collection. They believed in hands-on learning and as such, donated a significant number (as in like a solid third to maybe even half) of pieces to the fashion design school. The curator of this collection was nice enough to ask me where my interest lie. I had three things I wanted to see (one of which wasn't possible at the time):
- Edwardian Era/"Teens"--I'm taking part in the Vintage Pattern Lending Library 1912 Project and wanted to see something inspirational! (This was the impossible request; Spring 2011 their Edwardian collection was on display and then boxed up for storage).
- As I sew (and am attempting to learn as many techniques as possible), I requested anything with interesting design or construction elements.
- Her favorite piece/pieces.
- An 1880s dress with hand tatted lace and an 18" waist.
- A beaded 1920s dress that weighed a solid 50 lbs (I got to hold the hanger).
- Two Italian couture pieces that had amazing beaded detail. One, a coat, was a beautiful cream on the outside and a black velvet on the inside and had amazing turquoise colored beading on the outside.
- A 1950s party dress with rick-rack roses all over the tulle skirt
- A late 1890s lace overlay (full sized--looked like a dress, just minus the dress!) that had little dancing couples incorporated into the lace
Folks, this visit--a mere one and a half hours in length--is one of those hidden gems/saving grace things. Knowing that there exists some where in this ugly forgotten city a storeroom full of some of the most beautiful things I have ever seen, makes living here in Philly, better. It's a little check in the "positive" column. Doesn't make me love this city, but at least I can make polite conversation with it, if you catch my drift.