The Ladies & Gentlemen of the 1860's conference has many highlights, but the displays of original garments and other artifacts rank very high in any list of those highlights.
The displays change each day of the conference and photos are most definitely allowed; I typically come home with between 800-1000 images each year. The owners of these treasures are very generous people, it's a lot of work to pack, haul, unload and display these items in such a manner so as to allow close examination - and most are quite willing to move an item to show whatever additional detail you may be interested seeing closer.
In the last couple years, many items have placards sharing specific details of each piece and any unusual elements of construction.
Here's a few things I've learned from these wonderful displays:
1.) Every year I encounter at least one garment made up in a fabric that I would never have chosen as appropriate for a mid-19th century garment.
But look at this lovely dress for a young girl:
2.) While there are certainly many "standards" of style, there's almost always an exception and the creativity in remaking garments is endless, here's an 1860's "wrap" dress:
The owner believes it may have been reworked from an earlier fan front style.
3.) Extreme caution is needed when making assumptions about textiles from photographs, for instance, look at this very sheer dress with dots in the pattern:
But wait - those "dots" are actually part of a patterned stripe. I am always amazed at how different the fabric can look in a photograph of an overall garment versus a close up of the fabric itself. Add in the peculiar effects of period photography on various colors and it makes me think twice about any conclusions I might assume about a CDV.
It would be easy to assume that this is an example of braidwork...
but it's actually printed.
In recent years, effort has been made to coordinate the displays with the presentations. Brian Koenig gave a wonderful presentation, A New Lease on Life: Second Hand, Remade and Altered Men's Clothing and a number of real life examples were available to scrutinize.
One of the most common reasons that clothing was altered was due to increased "girth", this vest has been sliced up the back and a large gusset inserted: From the front, no one would ever know!
This is an amazing example:
This was once a double breasted vest, the careful removal and repair of the old buttonholes is nearly invisible. The gorgeous floral design is also an alteration.
Sometimes originals aren't available for display, but high quality, well documented reproductions can educate also. This was the case for Colleen Formby's talk, Oh! How Full are the Hearts of All: Expressions of Patriotism. Colleen wore her patriotic apron, diadem and cockade.
On display was a large assortment of reproduction patriotic items, representing both sides of the conflict - these are the type of details that truly complete an impression.
I have a weakness for period children's clothing and was quite charmed by the many items displayed to complement Janine Whiteman's discussion, As Pleasingly as Your Means Will Permit: The Dress of Children.
I loved the bows on this dress:
And I couldn't help but laugh when Janine told us that she had found bits of the trim in the pocket - I can just picture the little girl - bored and picking at her dress. And imagine mama's face when she discovered the damage!
The pre-conference workshops are considered too, as shown by these period penwipers.
I never miss an opportunity to view originals - they all have something to teach us, even if it's only to reinforce knowledge we already hold, but I'm endless surprised at how often I learn something new and different.