News from the Costume Chair
by Sharon Shore, Costume Chair
Rare Esther Williams Costume
This might be the one and only opportunity we have to display this spectacular but very fragile costume made of delicate gold elasticized net studded with gold sequins. Due to the inherently unstable chemical makeup of most stretchy pre-polyester era fabrics, the net is dry and somewhat brittle overall. In order to protect the suit from further deterioration during the current display period, it is loosely fitted on a partial torso form and gently draped within the display case.
However, when worn by Esther Williams, the suit would have fit “like a glove” right down to the tips of her toes, as illustrated in our copy of a color drawing by the famous costume illustrator Walter Plunkett.
“Bathing Beauty” Wear
Also included in the summer costume display is an emerald green one-piece swim-like costume embellished with a white starfish made of glass studs and sequins. Although the film attribution for the costume is unknown, it is another reminder of the glamorous “bathing beauty” films made in the 1940s and ‘50s.
A Dress Fit For A Fiesta “Princess”
From the same era, made in 1951 by Rosalie Utterback, is one of the Historical Society’s collection of six Fiesta La Ballona dresses displayed on a mannequin on the center platform in the museum. The dress would have been worn by a “Princess” attendant in the Fiesta Queen’s court and features a skirt with several deep layers of flounce. The fitted lace-covered bodice with short cap sleeves and point at the center front waist is exemplary of a popular 1950s cocktail dress style.
Costume Care Tip For Summer
Make time to empty and vacuum out boxes, drawers and bins of your costume and textile collection before the summer arrives. Those insects most likely to cause damage to your collection – namely moths, carpet beetles and silver fish – thrive in dark undisturbed spaces (such as the lowest drawer in a chest where wool sweaters might be stashed during the summer).
Often a gentle shake and refolding of each item after cleaning out drawers, boxes or bins, will be enough to encourage the pesky few to leave the premises. The clean-out will also reveal any seriously entrenched infestation, hopefully before structural damage has occurred.
If an infestation is serious, you might want to consider seeking the advice and/or help of a professional collections manager, museum conservation staff, etc.