Shippensburg University
Fashion Archives and Museum

Home > Exhibitions > Past > Extremes of Black and White and Shades of Gray

Extremes of Black and White and Shades of Gray
October 23, 2008 — March 4, 2009

The display features a variety of garments for men, women and children dating as far back as the 1820s and including nearly every decade through the 1980s.

The exhibit explores the fascinating layers of meaning associated with these colors and their connection to many of the most significant moments in life: religious events such as christenings, first communions and weddings feature white garments. Yet at the same time, white is considered both cool and practical for summer wear and the ultimate statement in femininity through the lavish use of lace and embroidery. In contrast, black clothing represents both the highest chic for evening wear and sexy attire as well as the ultimate safe and conservative choice for daytime wear. It is also the profound indicator of grief and mourning. Gray, both literally and figuratively, occupies an interesting position relative to black and white. It, too, represents a safe and conservative color choice for social situations, and can also be a symbol of mourning.

"The exhibit has something for everyone, no matter what your preferred time period may be," says the director Dr. Karin J. Bohleke, "We have two dresses worn by the same woman in 1848, a ball gown and a wedding gown from the 1850s, and an incredible array of hats and bonnets from the Civil War to the large-scale 'Titanic' era to bold designs of the 1940s and beyond. The evening wear, too, is simply stunning." She further adds, "This particular opening celebration has a new feature: guests are invited to come attired in their favorite primarily black, white or gray ensemble to become themselves a living part of the exhibit for the duration of their visit."

Woman’s dress of plain silk satin and striped floral jacquard trimmed with beads, 1892-1893. The bolero jacket is an integral part of the bodice construction and cannot be worn separately. (S1982-64-135 Wm. Penn)