Women’s clothing from the 1870s to the 1930s — what was visible and some layers that were not usually visible — is the subject of a new exhibit at the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum.

“Dressed for the Occasion” focuses on clothing for “everyday” as well as special occasions like weddings, funerals, and baptisms. The exhibit opens with a free reception from 5-7 p.m. on April 5. Costumed interpreters will be at the reception and refreshments will be provided.

“The idea for this exhibit began as an underwear exhibit,” said Leah Tookey, the Museum’s History Curator. “As we searched our collection, and the collections of some of our sister museums in southern New Mexico, we found many beautiful dresses and artifacts that tell interesting stories about women’s lives during the late 19th and early 20th century. With all of these discoveries, the exhibit blossomed into this wonderful assemblage.”

This exhibit features several vignettes, including “Underthings,” which has a lobster tail bustle, corset, pantaloons, camisole, petticoat and other items. “Four Weddings and a Funeral” shows stunning dresses and historic photographs.

“A Child’s World” features a small bedroom displaying christening gowns and shoes, as well as period toys and furniture. Another vignette shows the many items she might have carried in her purse. The exhibit also includes an early 20th century graduation dress, stunning beaded Flappers dresses, and more understated clothing from the Great Depression.

Interactive components include one that shows the different layers that women wore, and a paper doll area for children.

To properly display the vintage dresses, mannequins with the proper shape and size were needed. Of the 14 in the exhibit, six were carved out of Ethafoam blocks by Museum Collections Manager Holly Radke. Each were custom-shaped to fit a specific dress so as not to put stress on the aging fabric and buttons.

“Dresses were smaller back then and you can’t use a children’s mannequin because the shape is different … it doesn’t have that hour-glass figure,” she said. “Plus, this was much more cost-effective.”

The exhibit, which has been more than a year in the making, includes clothing and artifacts from the Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum’s collections as well as from the collections of the Silver City Museum, The City of Las Cruces Museums, and the Black Range Museum. The exhibit will be on display in the Museum’s Legacy Gallery through August 25, 2019.

Scroll to Top