Getting “A Peek Under the Petticoat” from the Monmouth County Historical Association

I’m still excited about what happened this past Friday, September 30, 2016.

I was one of ten enthusiastic ladies who got “A Peek Under the Petticoat” at the museum of the Monmouth County Historical Associationin Freehold, New Jersey.

Sounds racy, doesn’t it? Well, my heart did race, because I had a rare opportunity to watch a mannequin being dressed layer-by-layer in beautifully surviving clothes from 1869. I got to do what I never get to do in places like the museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, or downstairs in the Costume Institute galleries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or at the lovely Fashion Museum in Bath, England: I got to look at the garments close up. It interested me as both a history buff and a sewing enthusiast. I got to scrutinize the stitching, study the embroidery, and recognize the ultra-fine red-on-blue pinstripe in a dress silk that from a safe museum patron’s distance would appear to be flat navy.


Photo by Marianne Sweet

The “experiment” was in opening up the dressing of the mannequin to a small audience of ten. The announcement from the museum landed in my inbox at about 6:00 AM. By 6:20, I was registered.What was the occasion, you may wonder? Joseph Hammond, Curator of Museum Collections, called the event “an experiment”. Preparations were underway for their forthcoming exhibition, Hartshorne: Eight Generations and ­Their Highlands Estate Called Portland. Among the objects to appear in the exhibition is a mannequin representing Julia Norton Hartshorne, a lively woman who died tragically at the age of 30, most likely from smallpox. Her complete wardrobe from the time of her death has been well-preserved by her descendants, giving the Monmouth County Historical Association the ability to dress “Julia” in her own clothing, from petticoats to bonnet (the latter still bearing its tag from a Paris boutique!).

We, the lucky audience, got to witness the dressing of Julia by guest curator Bernadette Rogoff who is an expert in the care and display of antique textiles and who “loves this stuff”. Some attendees even got to assist Rogoff. She was generous with her time and know-how and answered, oh, about a billion questions with grace and enthusiasm.

Hammond chuckled when I said “You should do this every month.” Hey, who’s kidding?

Interested in the Hartshorne exhibition? A preview reception to celebrate the opening will be held on Thursday, October 6 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The reception is open to the public at no charge and refreshments will be served. The exhibition runs from October 7, 2016 through April 29, 2017. The museum is located at 70 Court Street in Freehold, NJ. For more information, give them a buzz at 732-462-1466.



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