Albany Exhibit Lets Visitors Escape From the 2020s into a 1920s Gatsby Party


1920s dresses on display at Albany Institute of History and Art. (Photo credit: Brianna Collora / The ASP)

By Brianna Collora | October 25, 2021


In the reflection of hand sewn glass beads and sequins, you can see women of the 1920s at home, jazz clubs, dinner parties, or even getting married. You can see a woman staring at a mail order form with a black and white photo of a dress, deciding which of the seven shades of blue she might like best, or reading up on her etiquette books.


If you have not been to the Albany Institute of History and Art yet to get a glimpse of 1920s dresses, shoes, fans, bags, and more on display 100 years after they were worn, some on the same streets of Albany, you still have until Jan. 2.


The new limited exhibit, “Fashionable Frocks of the 1920s”, features a collection of ‘20s day, evening, and bridal wear that have never been on display. The museum is open to visitors Wednesday-Sunday with admittance available at the time of visit at $8 for students.

While anyone can Google “1920s clothing,” or research the time period online or in books, museum curator Diane Shewchuk says “there’s a lot of power in the authentic object.” A photo alone or words describing the pieces cannot capture the true beauty of the clothing. “These you have to really see up close because of the details in the beadwork, the trimmings, and the types of fabrics used,” Shewchuk said.


Sophomore Maria Latorre appreciated the ability to see the pieces up close. “It helped me to clearly visualize an era that I normally only get to read about,” Latorre said. “The museum is a great resource with a wealth of information on a variety of subjects that I think more students should take advantage of.”


The exhibit is not just about the artifacts and clothing. Everything from the placement of which pieces will go in which spots, to the wallpapers and decorations is carefully planned and created.


Pulling inspiration from a French fashion plate illustration, Shewchuk envisioned a party scene When brought to life in the largest room of the exhibit, it makes any visitor feel like they were invited by Gatsby himself. The background scenes are meant to contribute to the exhibit just as much as the dresses themselves.


Shewchuk, along with exhibit designer Tom Nelson, separated illustrations of people and a car in the fashion plates from the background to bring the scene to life and display what the limbless mannequins cannot. “I wanted the attitude of the ‘20s,” Shewchuk said. “This was a very colorful decade, and I think people forget that.” To convey the attitude, Shewchuk and Nelson printed life-sized images of cartoon-like women from the fashion plates and displayed them as giant paper dolls.


One section of the exhibit had wallpaper created by Shewchuk and Nelson from a photograph of a rose fabric seen on one of the pieces displayed.


Wallpaper created using a pattern from a piece displayed (left). (Photo credit: Brianna Collora / The ASP)

Although according to Shewchuk, the exhibit is “a female crowd pleaser,” men may be surprised by their interest after seeing the pieces and reading the labels. Regardless, everyone is able to enjoy the exhibit in different ways, whether it be appreciating the quiet atmosphere, admiring the clothing as art, or using the pieces to learn a little more about the women that came before them.



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