Exhibition on view in Fountain Elms through September 3

“Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.” Oscar Wilde, The Philosophy of Dress (1885)

Luxurious silk gowns, finely tailored suits, and children’s mourning attire will be featured in Dressed to the Nines: Williams-Proctor Fashions, opening April 14 in the Museum’s period room settings. This will be the first time that a selection of clothing worn by the Williams-Proctor women will be exhibited at the Museum. Their wardrobes, like those of other women of the Victorian era, display a sophisticated balancing act among requirements of fashion, etiquette, status, and personal taste.

The exhibition will showcase some seldom-seen examples of women’s gowns, menswear, and children’s ensembles. This exploration of how fashion functioned in Central New York’s 19th-century high society will also reveal stories about some of the people who wore these elegant outfits.

Each of the four period room settings in Fountain Elms will explore a theme. The dining room will highlight the 19th-century obsession with conspicuous consumption, featuring elaborate dresses complemented by personal accessories, including sparkling beaded bags, extravagant fans, and beautiful shawls.

The bedroom will display children’s outfits worn by all three of the Williams daughters, from the christening gowns worn at each of their baptisms to the mourning dress worn by Rachel after her sister Grace died in 1854. Apparel and accessories owned by the Williams and Proctor men, including suits, shoes, canes, and the steamer trunk used by Frederick Proctor for transatlantic travel, will fill the library.

The fashions on view in the parlor will be those worn for celebrations, displaying Maria Proctor’s 1890s bridesmaid dress for Maria Mason Peckham’s wedding, Thomas Proctor’s wedding tie, and Maria’s wedding dress from 1891.

Image credit:
Wedding ensemble worn by Maria Watson Williams Proctor 
(1853-1935) for the June 11,1890
Wedding of Charles Grayson Martin and Maria Mason Peckham
at Westminster Church, Utica, New York Maker
Unknown, New York State Silk 
Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York
Gift of Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute
Photograph by Richard Walker