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MOHAI’s New Fashion Exhibition Shines a Light on the Evolution of Seattle Style

The accepted cliché of dull Seattle style—think year-round sandals and fleece—has slowly waned over the past few years, and the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) is ready to prove that even though the region has long embraced a laid-back look, it has always had a strong sense of style. Although the city was an arbiter for the grunge scene, and later, the tech worker uniform, MOHAI’s latest exhibition, Seattle Style: Fashion/Function October 2019, delves into Seattle’s stylish past and celebrates the industry innovators who established the city’s sartorial scene.

Featuring more than 100 clothing and accessory items from MOHAI’s archive of 30,000 items (everything from shoes and hats to dresses, jewelry, and outdoor gear), Seattle Style highlights the city’s fashionable past with four thematic sections that take visitors on a journey through the city’s revolutionary outerwear inventions, showcase the fashion trailblazers who brought couture to the Northwest, and underscore contemporary, politically-conscious attire from local designers.  

While it’s tempting to only highlight the glamorous garments in local fashion, the exhibition’s curator and Collections Specialist of Costumes and Textiles, Clara Berg says that this exhibition aims to also acknowledge the evolution of the city’s casual style.

We shouldn’t be ashamed of having the outdoor gear and casual wear; That is part of our history. I think people think that fashion is judgmental or that you have to wear a certain thing to be ‘in fashion,’ but it’s really about what you identify with and what makes you feel like your best self.

Throughout Seattle Style, vintage Elsa Schiaparelli gowns and turn-of-the-century Nordstrom heels are displayed just feet away from Gore-Tex coats and wool ski jackets. At first glance, the contrast seems strange, but the mélange is woven together with the stories that connect them to Seattle’s fashion history. The exhibition’s emphasis on the narrative behind each garment gives value to items that appear ordinary and humanizes the extravagant couture pieces.

For those who want to dive even deeper, MOHAI will host a series of events and lectures throughout the run of the show that range from tours of museum’s archives to talks that discuss the current climate of the fashion industry. On June 1, MOHAI will host a (Re)Fashion: Clothing Repair Fair to teach visitors how to practice sustainability through mending their own clothes.

Whether it’s viewing the exhibition or participating in a hands-on experience, Berg says that she wants locals to engage in the city’s history and leave with a new perspective on local fashion.  

“I hope people leave feeling like they experienced a ‘wow’ moment where they [learned something they] had no idea had happened in Seattle,” she says. “This is a very artifact-heavy exhibit and I hope that people just enjoy.”


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