Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum to unveil behind the scenes risks and pitfalls of Victorian era fashion

Fashion Plate for ‘La Modiste Universelle’, engraving on paper, November 1899, Los Angeles County Museum of Art. (contribuited image/LMMM)

Norwalk, CT – On Sunday, Oct. 2, 2022, at 2 p.m., Deborah Kraak, an independent museum professional specializing in historic textiles, costumes, and interiors, will give a talk titled, Victorian Fashion, Dangerous Dyes, and Murderous Millinery at the Lockwood-Mathews Mansion Museum, 295 West Ave. Norwalk, CT. To reserve tickets attendees can visit the Events page on the Museum’s website at www.lockwoodmathewsmansion.com. Admission for members is $10, $15 for non-members. Light refreshments and a Mansion tour will be offered following the presentation.

Whether it is the lavish Victorian clothing we enjoy watching in period dramas or viewing in the portraits on museum walls, what we see is a carefully presented image of perfection. But there are always “behind-the-scenes” stories about what made that illusion possible. This talk reveals some of them, from the prosaic to the tragic.

Looking good might be as simple as mending and creatively altering clothing, practices that are newly popular today. But it could also be as hazardous as wearing dresses dyed in colors that were as poisonous as they were beautiful. The mania for using feathers or entire birds to decorate hats and bonnets nearly wiped-out certain species before the commercial trade in plumes was effectively eliminated, thanks in no small part to the efforts of two Bostonian socialites. The fur trade laid the foundation of the Astor family’s astounding fortune, underwriting Caroline Astor’s leadership of New York’s “old money” society members in the Gilded Age.

Complementing the exhibition titled, Making It Last: Sustainable Fashion in Victorian America, this talk explores the exhibition themes in greater detail, through period garments, fashion plates, satirical cartoons, photographs, and portraits, as well as Victorian clothing depicted in movies and television.

Ms. Kraak is a former textile curator at the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library and assistant curator of textiles and costumes at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Deborah is also a consultant to museums, fabric companies, and private collectors. She is an adjunct professor of costume history at the University of Delaware, where her lectures include studies of clothing and textile sustainability issues from the 18th century to the present.

The talk is made possible in part by CT Humanities with generous funding provided by Connecticut State Department of Economic and Community Development/Connecticut Office of the Arts (COA) from the Connecticut State Legislature and LMMM’s Founding Patrons: The Estate of Mrs. Cynthia Clark Brown; LMMM’s Leadership Patrons: The Sealark Foundation; and LMMM’s 2022 Season Distinguished Benefactors: The City of Norwalk, The Maurice Goodman Foundation and Lockwood-Mathews Foundation, Inc.

For more information on tours and programs, visit www.lockwoodmathewsmansion.com, email info@lockwoodmathewsmansion.com, or call 203-838-9799.

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