All the Fashion in the Western Reserve

My dearest childhood friend Stephanie lives in Youngstown, Ohio. We met back when our families were stationed in Germany during middle school. She has three great kids and a full time job so we don’t get to see each other too often. She’s just a five hour drive away so Jordan and I took the long Labor Day weekend for a mini break in the Western Reserve. As per usual, I managed to squeeze in as much sewing / fashion related stuff as humanly possible. Since this is a long post with many, many photos, I’ll just help you along here here and let you jump to the parts that might interest you most. I was lucky enough to spend time looking at quilts and knitting at the The Canfield Fair, fabulous performance costumes at the The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and checking out the amazing costume collection at the Kent State Museum.

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Sewing Machine Tractor. Of course.

When Stephanie suggested the Canfield Fair for our Friday plans I was all about it. And, not just in for the deep fried cheese curds.  The Canfield Fair is the largest County Fair in the country! I went online and saw they had quilting exhibits in addition to hand and machine knitting. There was fashion sewing too, but I didn’t grab any photos of those.

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While there were just a few items that were machine and hand knit, I was BLOWN away by the gorgeous hand and machine made quilts on display.
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After we left Youngstown, Jordan and I headed up to Cleveland for the remainder of the weekend. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was top of our list.

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As per usual, I beelined for the costume display.

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Oh, Queen Bey. Why did I recognize every single one of the seven costumes on display?

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Also, I totally want to be a Supreme.

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On Sunday, we drove an hour outside of Cleveland to Kent State University so I could see a few of the current exhibitions from their museum’s costume collection.

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Closing this weekend in the incredible Flapper Style: 1920s Fashion. Holy beaded beauty. Flapper Style is a wonderful collection of period pieces. The 40 pieces (mostly dresses and hats) are grouped by themes of Romanticism, Art Deco, Exoticism and Abstraction. Here are a few of my favorites:

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Following the incredible Flapper Style, I went to view the Fashion Timeline exhibit which does a remarkable job of tying fashion to current events. From the advent of fabric production to the invention and adoption of the sewing machine, fashion is tied together.

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They started with the mid 1700s and wrapped up with the mid 1960s (You can see the interactive timeline here). As I’ve noted before, I have very mixed emotions when it comes to vintage clothes. For me, it’s important to not look at the amazing fashion of the past and idealize what were generally crappy times for people of color and women. I love fashion and costumes and can deeply appreciate the clothes for what they are. But, it’s odd to stand around and admire an antebellum dress that was afforded on the backs of  slave labor (says the girl who holds Gone With the Wind and To Kill a Mockingbird up as her favorite books of all time). Or, love the  details in a dress from the 50s and 60s and not think about the massive violation of civil rights in America.  That said, the exhibit does a good job of noting the part of  our history that made fashion possible, like the invention of the cotton gin.  Or, acknowledging that women in the work place influenced and changed style very quickly.

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Here are a few of the pieces from the collection that really spoke to me.

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The final exhibition I saw was Fashion Designs of Southern Africa. While I was originally most excited about this new exhibit, I was underwhelmed in person. Perhaps it’s because I’m admittedly not familiar with designers from Southern Africa.But, I found the selections underwhelming with not enough context.

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So, that wraps up all the ways I turned our mini break into my fashion tour of the Western Reserve :-). If you can make it to Kent State I highly recommend you visit their compact but well curated costume museum. And, if you’re at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, give yourself plenty of time. I could have spent hours and hours in there. We also did a bunch of other touristy stuff including walking and biking tours that I very much enjoyed. I can tell you for sure though, Cleveland absolutely rocks!


  1. Thank you so much for one of the best blog posts ever! I think you have an eye for the best. Regarding the timeline, as a child I always loved the story told by the First Ladies’ Dresses at the Smithsonian, but your comment on slavery and the inequities of fahion is right on point. Your reaction to the South African exhibition reminds me of Michael Kors’s observation that “prints are very emotional,” or perhaps not when they evoke too little, and prints semm to be a big part of the SA story. And thanks for giving me another tool to persuade my husband to take a trip to Cleveland, which I have been trying to do for a decade! Oh, call me Miss Opinionpants, but I truly enjoyed this post.

  2. It looks like you had an amazing weekend! The Kent State Museum is on my list of museums I want to visit. And I so understand what you mean about looking at fashion…I think the 50s really bother me the most yet I’m so attracted to the details that the garments contain so I totally understand what you mean. And Gone with the Wind is one of my favorite movies…the dichotomy of it…*sigh*

    • If I still had nieces young enough, I would definitely think about getting them the new American Girl Doll. She’s a girl from Detroit during the Civil Rights era. She even has a little Mary Tyler Moore style wig.

      On Mon, Sep 5, 2016 at 7:58 PM, Miss Celie's Pants wrote:


  3. Thank you for the gentle reminder of many backs which were bent to provide the lovely dresses of the antebellum south. Many times in my life I have heard folks around me exclaim with delight over this lovely dress or that intricately hand beaded shawl or something. I say nothing when I hear these exclamations, but I always wonder if people exclaiming are that shallow. I am the (white) daughter of an Appalachian tobacco sharecropper. Sharecropping is wholly different from the deep sin of slavery, but it still makes me aware of the continental divide between the haves and the have-nots, people who have control over their lives and people who have very little control or in the case of slavery, people who have no control over their lives. I apologize for the preaching. Just thank you.

    • Ugh. Sharecropping is right up there with being the *worst*. Talk about a way to keep people down. I was worried I sounded preachy or neurotic. But, I just can’t stop these things from crossing my mind when I look at historical clothing. Thank *you* for the reminder of our collective history!

      On Mon, Sep 5, 2016 at 9:14 PM, Miss Celie's Pants wrote:


  4. I’m blown away by the plastic over the quilts at the fair. Ours are hung high and also within touching distance but a chain keeps that from happening. They could be touched if you can’t help yourself. I’ve been pushing for more people to enter their creative things into their county fair as fair entries continue to drop in quantity. (of course this makes it easy for me to win blue ribbons – lol).
    And I spotted the Wright Flyer in one of your photos.
    Looks like a perfect getaway.

    • The plastic made me sad. The only other quilt show I’ve seen was an expo at out convention center here in Baltimore. The quilts were displayed full size with a barrier so you didn’t get *too* close. It’s hard to get the full impact with them like this. And, it muddies the colors too :-/ I was really surprised at how few knitted items there were. I thought hand knitting was all the rage. But, I guess entering it into contests is a different animal. There were fashion garments. But, imho, nothing worth mentioning here.

      On Mon, Sep 5, 2016 at 11:10 PM, Miss Celie's Pants wrote:


      • I was actually really glad to see the plastic as those quilts are a TON of work and I don’t want someone’s corndog all over mine. Or coke spilled all down them. It’s really hard to put a lot of work into a piece, and then have it mishandled at an event like that. I’d rather enter my stuff at a Fiber Festival where they are used to handling fibery things, have an inkling of the work involved and the people who go see are also appreciative and don’t handle things with sticky hands.

        • Totally valid. I just wish I could have seen more of the quilts. But, that would have taken up a crazy amount of space.

          On Sep 16, 2016 5:03 PM, “Miss Celie's Pants” wrote:


  5. “…I have very mixed emotions when it comes to vintage clothes.” I share the same mixed emotions about vintage clothing as I am hyper aware of what my family (African and First Nation) had to endure in this country.

    On a brighter note, thanks for sharing some good things about Ohio. Being from Michigan, it is rarely a destination. For Michiganders, there are only three things we care about in Ohio: I-75, I-80, and Cedar Point. =)

    • LOL! So much shade! Jordan made sure to wear his Michigan gear the entire time we were in Ohio. Not sure how long the drive is to Kent State, but the Museum is great. I might wait though until they have their next major exhibition since the Flapper show closed.

      On Tue, Sep 6, 2016 at 8:10 AM, Miss Celie's Pants wrote:


  6. My knees got weak with your fantastic photos of herstory of fashion. The flapper era selections were especially amazing! Thank you!!!

    • That whole exhibit made me GIDDY! I never knew I’d care that much for 20s fashion. But, up close it’s just incredible.

      On Tue, Sep 6, 2016 at 9:18 AM, Miss Celie's Pants wrote:


  7. If you haven’t heard of Elizabeth Keckley you might find her story interesting – she seems like one of the few mid-1800s black seamstresses/designers that we have a lot of information about.

    • Thank you! I’ve only heard of her in passing. I’ll have to look up more about her. And, the woman who designed / sewed Jackie Kennedy’s wedding dress. I keep meaning to read up on her too.

      On Tue, Sep 6, 2016 at 11:02 AM, Miss Celie's Pants wrote:


      • Oooh I hadn’t heard of her before! I’ll have some more reading to do now too since looks like both of them are featured in The Threads of Time. Now, to dig myself out of the Wikipedia black hole I’ve fallen into and return to less interesting work…

  8. ALL of that about vintage fashion. That IG shot today of my 50s styled hair came with some wincing on my part–although I liked the outcome, all I could think about was my nana spending hours a day trying to work her hair into an “acceptable” style, because she had to. I have to turn off part of my brain to love the look of the 50s– and there’s SO much about that era that I adore fashion-wise.

  9. This is such an abundant post—fashion and politics and history and anguish. My heart hurts over man’s inhumanity to man. However, I must mention that all fashion is shallow—especially all the beauty and details that I like! 😦 But it keeps us happy and fulfilled, not to mention a HUGE part of the world economy. Sigh….

  10. It is also unusual to see a reference to the Western Reserve! You were taught well.

  11. I couldn’t agree more with your point about the context of vintage fashion. I wear/own a lot of vintage, and have heard the, ‘You were born in the wrong era!!” comment more times than I can count. I know the spirit of that statement is complimentary, but I always correct people by saying that I would never want to live in a bygone era because of the horrid injustices perpetrated against so many people (in terms of my lived experience, my first thoughts are of those against women, but that is certainly far from the only objection I have). I think that, to an extent, the beauty and otherworldliness of these garments can aid in erasing or obscuring the true–and often very unpleasant–history of their eras of origination. And I’d rather be a wet blanket (with a History degree) in the face of a well-meaning but ultimately ignorant comment than to aid in that erasure somehow. (Sorry this was super long, but it’s not often that someone draws attention to this important aspect of vintage fashion as you have so ably done.)

    I have been to the Kent State Museum a few times and it is wonderful! (I am bummed that I missed the Flapper exhibit though, since that’s the era I tend to enjoy the most fashion-wise.) They hosted the “Inside Out” exhibit a couple of years ago and that was very awesome, especially for someone who sews. Glad you were able to check it out and that you enjoyed your trip!

  12. I used to really love the fabulous dresses from a variety of eras. Now, I find that while I still enjoy the beauty, and the details and the craftsmanship, I have a strong discomfort with what they represent. Even if slavery was not involved in their production (which it was and I’m not discounting that), those antebellum dresses kept the women who wore them in the house, semi-helpless, and ‘in their place’, which was to be decorative. You didn’t check your fields like that. You couldn’t carry your shopping like that. You couldn’t even dress yourself easily. So yeah the dresses are pretty, but what they say about various aspects of society sure isn’t.

    I have also begun to wonder a lot more what “regular” women wore on a day-to-day basis. I follow a couple of facebook pages that post the most amazing gowns that a Czarina wore to balls, or the duchess of Somewhere wore to state dinners. Stunning, but I want to know about who made it. What was HER attire like?

    It is quite interesting how much meaning there is in a dress. How much social, economic and historical info there is.

  13. Hi, loved all the pictures!!! It looks like you had a ball. I just wanted to say your not crazy for cringing at the beauty of the clothing when remembering the harshness of the times. I also love period clothing as a sewist, but there are other ways of looking at this. One thing I would like to point out is that these pieces of clothing where in fact, contrary to how museums display them, sometimes worn by people of color! One tumbler I love is called People of color in European art history. They had a post about a Dutch museum changing the names of some of the works to remove slurs, found here . Some of the points have a cross over in that the mannequins used, to me, infer who got to wear what or even who was alive when! However pictures can help us see thing differently, as seen here and here especially with the help of artist . During the civil war there were people of color free in both the north and south, especially in the Carolinas, although life was not easy anywhere POC existed at every financial bracket. POC go back to day one, but museums often exclude POC by using only white mannequins, subtly reinforcing racist ideas that our history doesn’t exist outside of the slave narrative. For instance, if I was asked to describe a woman from France in the 1400’s would I envision someone who looks like me? Based on this , maybe I should. For fun the tumbler also has garb week going on which features POC in period and cosplay costumes.

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