Our Notes: “The Art of High Style” Fashion Exhibit

In Mia’s fashion exhibit, you learn bustles and bicycles are just two things that affected style in the 1880s and early 1900s
Minnesota Couture fashion exhibit at Mia

Courtesy Minneapolis Institute of Art

As our tour guide explained during Mia’s Fashion Night, in the 1880s and early 1900s, Minnesota had already developed an upper class thanks in part to its railroad industry and mills, and with improvements in travel, that upper class had a taste for the couture styles of London, New York, and Paris.

This is the set up for Mia’s new fashion exhibit, “The Art of High Fashion: Minnesota Couture 1880-1914.” While the exhibit only takes up a small room in the Cargill Gallery, it’s still worth a walkthrough if you’re visiting Mia or if you want a glimpse into Industrial/Progressive era fashion. And yes, some of the older fashions do remind you a bit of Downton Abbey.

I don’t want to reveal too much of the exhibit, but several outfits from the Minnesota Historical Society make up the exhibit’s highlights. Even in the span of three decades, the women’s dresses changed to become more practical and less rigidly formal but lost none of their intricate, hand-sewn details. That means, for instance, the structures that shaped a woman’s heavy skirt were done away with so they could do activities like bicycle riding. (You can see examples of some bustles, a corset, and hem lifter.) With the help of photographs and signage, some light was shed on the lives of some of Minnesota’s most prominent dressmakers, showing where they worked or narrating their annual trips across the sea for new designs and trends.

Out of everything, though, what struck me most was actually one of the paintings the curators displayed for historical context. Painted in 1902, “Rainy Evening on Hennepin Avenue” by Robert Koehler showed a world far removed from the marquee-lit, car-filled lane running through downtown Minneapolis. That, more than the black and white photos lining the walls or the clothing sketches, helped me close my eyes and go back in time for a second.

The Fitting Room fashion show at Mia's fashion exhibit openingThird Thursdays’ Fashion Night

To celebrate Mia’s new exhibit, its Third Thursday included a fashion show curated by the Fitting Room Mpls, paper wig crafts, a how-to on mending and stitching, little 10-minute tours of the exhibit, and more.

The fashion show didn’t dive into the modern history of Minnesota’s designers. Rather, it stayed very present, showing more than 20 pieces by designers like Alma Mia, Joeleen Torvick, Karen Morris Millinery, and Strey Design Handbags. Unlike the turn-of-the-century designs, these garments were modest in a loose, sometimes billowing manner. Some relic on wrap detail, solid colors, or monoprint, creating a minimalist aesthetic. Jumpsuits are definitely in (although a trip to Target could have tipped you off), and everything had an unconstrained, comfortable feel to it.