Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Fashion Museum

In what will be a sadly picture-free post (no photography allowed!), I’d like to discuss my recent visit to Kent’s fashion museum.  Although I love looking at old clothes, I’d never been to Kent’s museum before.  In fact, I went to university as an undergrad in Akron, and therefore haven’t spent much time on Kent’s campus at all, even though there is frozen custard to be had just down the road (if you’re there during the “summer” season, head over to Stoddard’s for a delicious ice cream).  Thursday’s are the museum’s late night, when it’s open until 8:45 (it closes at 4:45 every other day, except Monday and Tuesday, when it is shut entirely), and there’s convenient free parking right next to it.  Admission is $5.

I just missed the special fan exhibition, which was no biggie since I’ve of course been to the Greenwich Fan Museum, but there were a few other temporary exhibitions on, and I believe even the permanent galleries have their contents rotated out from time to time, as Kent keeps quite a lot in storage.  The place had some annoyingly giggly students in when I was there, but was otherwise empty.  I began with an exhibit on pleats, and honestly, I never knew there were so many different types!  Even though the signage was very limited, I found a helpful booklet on the back wall that listed the dates and designers of all the clothes, in addition to describing the pleat styles, and how they were made.  My favourite was the lovely pale blue Delphos gown from 1946, with Fortuny pleats, but I was also intrigued by the dresses with horizontal pleating (which has to be sewn to hold it in place). The dresses ranged in age from the 18th-20th centuries, and there was also a collection of hats, many of them from local department stores, like Higbee’s and Halle’s (my grandmother had a great hat collection back in the day, I think many of which came from Halle’s, so I like to think she may have worn some similar styles in the ’40s or ’50s).  Upon reflection, I believe this was the exhibit I enjoyed the most at this museum.

The permanent exhibit is a “timeline of fashion,” featuring dresses again from the 18th-20th centuries, as those make up the bulk of Kent’s collection.  There were also some gorgeous dresses in here, and although I think walking around in a Victorian number might be a bit much, there was a stunning floral print silk from the ’30s that I’d be happy to wear today if someone offered it to me!  I actually love ’30s and ’40s style dresses; I think they hang well, and are form-fitting without being overly clingy.  Anyway, the “timeline” segued into a room holding a small glass collection of mostly carnival glass, and there were also a few display cases in the hallway back to the entrance full of hats and shoes (lots of Laura Ingalls-era bonnets to inspect!).

Up the staircase I went, to the special “Vestments” exhibit, which was obviously loads of ornate Catholic priest-wear. Religious stuff isn’t really my thing (I got enough of looking at vestments when I was a child.  I was even an altar girl for a few years, so I got to wear those little robes that tied with the coloured cord.  I’m sure they have a specific name, but I can’t remember all that Catholic terminology), so I kind of skimmed over this, and once again, there wasn’t much information on the objects; you had to search on the computer they provided for more details.

The final exhibit was called “Shifting Paradigms” and was about the intersection of fashion and technology.  Again, I am a history nerd, and was really mainly there to look at all the Victorian and early-to-mid 20th century clothes, so weirdly moulded shoes that looked unwearable, and computer-designed clothing didn’t really do much for me, but I did pick up a free zine on the art of tying t-shirts (unfortunately, instructions weren’t provided, only pictures of the finished products).

Finally, the museum has a shop, reminiscent of the V&A shop on a much smaller scale, with jewellery and clothing by up-and-coming designers, which is worth a look if you’re into that sort of thing.  The Kent Museum was described to me as being very small, and perhaps they’ve added on since then, because although it certainly wasn’t huge, it was definitely bigger than I was expecting, with the capacity for at least 5 different galleries. Whilst it wasn’t the most amazing fashion collection I’ve seen, and I would have appreciated more detail on the signs, it wasn’t terrible either, and I think I probably would have enjoyed it even more if I’d visited during a more appealing special exhibit.  They had ones last year on bathing costumes, Civil War fashions, and undergarments, all of which looked neat; unfortunately, I didn’t have the chance to check them out at the time, but I’d definitely return in future for a different historically themed exhibition.  3/5