“Why do humans feel the need to decorate and embellish their bodies?” a sign in the Renton History Museum exhibit, Sparkle, states. “Perhaps this is one of the traits that makes us human in the first place.”
The new exhibit, which runs from Oct. 22 to April 4, looks at how fashion and embellishments have shifted and changed through Renton’s history, using artifacts in the museum’s fashion collection.
The main goal of the exhibit was to bring some of the fashion collection, featuring garments, hats, shoes and jewelry, to see the light of day, Curator Sarah Samson said. The past fashion exhibits have been very popular, Samson said.
“I think people find clothing a really personal way you can connect (with history,) because you could see somebody wearing it,” Samson said. “It’s a direct link to the past.”
Fashion exhibits are pretty, but the museum also likes to make a point, she said. Sparkle focuses on how fashion moved from the East to the West, as well as looking at why people were wearing the clothes they did throughout the decades. Much of the exhibit includes adorned jewels and clothing with threads of gold and silver.
Visitors first see the Victorian time period, with large feather hats and millinery. The exhibit also pairs decades that had similar economic prosperity or hardship, and therefore a similar amount of adornment.
Most of the collection comes from the museum’s founders, but Samson said they didn’t label who donated many of the artifacts, including an elaborate Dior turban from the ’60s.
Another part of the exhibit features high-end formal wear and accessories, from the Smithers’ family. Most of this comes from the Smithers, the founders of the City of Renton and who owned most of the downtown property. Smithers were the 1 percent of Renton in its early years.
In one corner is a not-so-adorned bare mannequin, with a sign reading “Whose Fashion Is Missing?” Samson wanted to address the fact that the collection mostly represents middle-class white people throughout Renton’s history, and explain that they continue to collect and seek out artifacts in an effort to fill in the missing representation.
The exhibit also features three interactive exhibits: guessing the decades of jewelry, a fabric sample feeler (so visitors can see what the dresses feel like without ruining the artifacts) and playing dress up with a LBD (little black dress.)
Samson said she hopes visitors see why people wore what they did throughout the decades, and wonder why they make their fashion choices today. And as time has gone on, “we still love to wear sparkle.”
More information is available at rentonwa.gov/RentonHistoryMuseum.