Antique Clothing Is Always Just a Little Ghostly 

Photo via Getty Images.

Browsing a blockbuster museum exhibit featuring beautiful items
of clothing from decades and even centuries past, it’s easy to
see them as pieces of art, like a painting. But of course, they
were once worn, nestled intimately against a body that’s now
gone. Which may give you the faint feeling of a rabbit run over
your grave.

At the Atlantic,
fashion historian Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell writes about
working with historic clothing as a “costume curator” for
museum exhibits. She describes the faintly spooky aspects of
her job:

There’s something transgressive about touching other people’s
clothes—especially dead people’s clothes. Some would even
call it spooky. As a costume curator and fashion historian, I
have colleagues who swear that they have felt, and even seen,
ghostly presences in their museums’ costume-storage areas.
It’s easy to get the chills in those cramped rooms, which are
climate-controlled to the ideal temperature and humidity for
textiles, not for humans…. Occasionally I’ll find a stray
hair, a frayed hem, or a telltale stain on an otherwise
pristine garment carefully packed away for posterity in
acid-free tissue paper and remember, with a jolt, that there
was once a living, breathing, sweating human body inside it—a
body that has been still for up to hundreds of years.

Which will stick with me the next time I’m squinting at an
antique ball gown in the Met Museum, fellow New Yorkers
jostling against me for their own closer look.

For those curious about the process of putting one of those
exhibits as a costume curator, Chrisman-Campbell also describes
her job: “a full answer involves mannequin mutilation and
crotch-stuffing, writing and lecturing, bidding on eBay,
researching history and art history, and honing a sense of
style that both channels and transcends the sensibilities of
any given era.” The piece is worth reading in full over at the
Atlantic.

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