Shopping at department stores in the city was an event from the 1940s through the 1960s.
Imagine walking into a 25-story building about the size of the entire Mall of America near Minneapolis and being greeted by uniformed sales clerks, sparkling chandeliers and miles of gleaming hardwood floors. Instead of elbowing your way through a crowded food court popular in today’s shopping malls, you would be seated to dine in a “tea room” restaurant, where meals were often made from scratch.
That’s the backdrop to the Stephens College Costume Museum and Research Library’s latest exhibit, “Head over Heels,” which opens Feb. 18, 2017, and runs through May 7 in the Historic Costume Gallery on the mezzanine level of Lela Raney Wood Hall, 6 N. College Ave. The exhibit is free and open to the public.
The show includes 16 pairs of shoes, 10 hats and a variety of accessories such as stockings from the three-decade period. Most of the items on display have a Missouri or Columbia connection.
For example, there is a pair of sandals purchased at the Novus Shop, which opened in 1936 in downtown Columbia. There are shoes from Harzfeld’s department store in Kansas City, and suede Palter DeLiso ankle strap sandal from the 1940s that were purchased at Famous-Baar in St. Louis.
“I was thinking about merchandizing and shopping practices involving department stores of that era,” said Lori Hall-Araujo, an assistant professor in the fashion program and curator for the Stephens College Costume Museum and Research Library. “It was the end of an era when there were more rules about fashion, which in some ways, made it easier for women to dress because they knew what the expectations were.”
Hall-Araujo joined the faculty at Stephens this fall after serving as an Anawalt Postdoctoral Fellow in the Center for the Study of Regional Dress at the Fowler Museum at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Head Over Heels” is her first exhibit at Stephens and one she selected for its practicality, among other reasons.
“I wanted to focus on things that don’t require as much labor, and hats and shoes are less involved than exhibiting garments,” she said.
Hall-Araujo explained that showing garments from a museum collection is time-consuming because the mannequins must be modified to fit the garments, not the other way around, the reason being the preservation of the clothing.
“We want to treat every garment as if it were worn by Marie Antoinette,” she said.
The exhibit includes some offbeat items such as a pair of sandals made in England that earned a royal warrant. The special designation authorized the company to display the royal arms, indicating that the sandals were supplied to the sovereign or to a specific member of the royal family. The sandals in the Stephens show have Wedgwood bone china heels on which a relief of an angel is engraved.
“Aren’t they amazing?” Hall-Araujo said.
There’s also a pair of Capezio mustard-colored lace-up jazz oxford with black leather detailing that were popular among Beatniks of the time.
“They probably weren’t terribly expensive because many young people were wearing them,” Hall-Araujo said.
To prepare the shoes for the show, each pair was cleaned using a small brush and a vacuum hose, which was covered with a nylon stocking to prevent loose pieces from being sucked into the machine. All the items in the exhibit are stored on shelves in a climate-controlled room.
Gallery Dates: Feb. 18-May 7, 2016
Gallery Hours: 12-1 p.m. Wednesdays, 5:30-8:30 p.m. Thursdays, and 12-3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Closed during Stephens College holidays.
Location: Historic Costume Gallery, mezzanine level of Lela Raney Wood Hall
The exhibit is free and open to the public.
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