Curating couture

I love clothes. Enough so that souvenir shopping on any vacation is planned around the local thrift stores-the more cavernous and chaotic the better. It’s not about fashion (well, maybe just a little) as much as the tantalizingly mysterious stories that now reside in my wardrobe. On any given day I wake up, throw open the closet doors and ponder the dubious nationality of the naval uniform jacket from a Parisian flea-market or the lengthy journey of a silk scarf from the Spanish Olympic diving team to a bin in a San Francisco Salvation Army shop. Getting dressed is thought-provoking, not routine. Obviously then I’m really a fan of our costume collections, because many of the clothes have stories from the donor: a record of the where, when, why, and how of the garment.

WeddingRuth L. Hensinger's wedding gown.

I got pretty sentimental reading about Ruth L. Hensinger’s gorgeous wedding dress. She made it from the parachute that saved her future husband’s life in 1944 when he bailed out of his plane over China after a nighttime bombing raid. After he proposed in 1947 (using the parachute!) she not only designed the gown around the nylon fabric but made the skirt herself. I'm impressed. Like most of my friends, I can just barely sew a button on my cardigans, forget sewing a wedding dress!

I’m very excited for another wedding gown story at this week’s Meet Our Museum program, “Not a June Bride,” from 12-12:30, June 18 in the Flag Hall. Karen Harris, Associate Curator for the Costume Collection, will be showing off the 1928 dress owned by Anna May Wood, who curated the American Costume Hall at the museum’s opening in 1964. It’s a beautiful dress, and unlike so many of my thrift store finds, its history is open and ready to be explored.

Allison Tara Sundaram is an intern in the New Media program at the National Museum of American History.