When Cleveland was the king of fashion


Courtesy Western Reserve Historical Society

“In Grand Style,” an exhibit at the WRHS shows off past Cleveland style.

Allison Duchin, Staff Reporter

On Nov. 8, 2014 the Western Reserve Historical Society opened its new exhibit, “In Grand Style.” This exhibit features elaborate clothing from a range of nearly six decades. Danielle Peck, the senior registrar at the museum, believes this period of time was a highly important one for Cleveland.

“Cleveland was king,” said Peck.

For most of its history, Cleveland’s influence, power and wealth landed it as a major United States city, especially just after the Civil War. The new explosion of industrial corporations and manufacturers had a heavy presence in the city as well as on banking, politics and, of course, fashion. Some of the buildings we walk by everyday exist as reminders of the families whose clothing is featured in the exhibit.

The museum’s exhibit follows the historic path of University Circle’s growth, as Cleveland’s elite began to move off Euclid Avenue and to the new neighborhood. Peck explained that much of the clothing was a display of extravagance and the person who wore it was likely wearing it to be seen in a certain light.

However, much of the clothing was originally owned and worn by women who did extensive philanthropic work around the community. Their clothing reflects their travels throughout the community in their unique community actions.

Peck drew a major parallel between modern women and the women portrayed in the exhibit. “Women in business dress up; we have just developed a more practical style in the work that we do,” she said.

Now, for instance, women in the labor force don’t have three-foot trains following them around the office.

One of the main things Peck would like visitors to take out of the display is that Cleveland has always been a globally connected city with world events and influences, including fashion trends. The purpose of WRHS’ exhibit is to prove that Cleveland’s value is not just in the past.

Some may ask, why clothes? Why not art? How can clothes depict life in the past?

“Clothing [next to a diary] are the most personal things that can belong to a person because it is what they live their lives in,” said Peck. “Clearly they chose this specific garment for a reason.”

The “In Grand Style” exhibit reflects on a time period when many people only had a few pieces of clothing in their closets, therefore each one was likely customized and held a high value to the owner and can reflect on the lifestyle that they lived.

Any student who has plans to visit Severance Hall, the Cleveland Botanical Gardens, Cleveland Museum of Natural History or Cleveland Museum of Art should visit the Western Reserve Historical Society, located just behind the Cleveland Institute of Music, and go see the lives of the families who helped create these beautiful additions to our community while wearing these ornately decorated and wonderfully preserved garments.

Exhibit: “In Grand Style”
Location: Western Reserve Historical Society, 10825 East Blvd.
Price: Free with student I.D.
Rating: ★★★★★