Beyond The Past Is Hidden

‘The past is not dead. It is not even past yet.’ William Faulkner.

Have you ever wondered what lies beneath the hidden seams of a dress, how fragile threads hold together, clasping and clinching in order to exist?

Think about the structure of a dress.  What is it made from? It is made from yarns which have been woven together. Is it worth considering the stories of a dress?

In order to investigate the notion of a dress containing a story or understanding of the past through generations of usage, it is necessary to study dresses that have been collected and preserved from years gone by.

Why do we collect objects and dresses? Could it be a desire to collect and hold onto something with no real value but sentimental value?

It is important to look at why we collect in order to understand what we hope to learn from these dresses or objects in the future.

A dress could remind us of something which took place previously, although our understanding of what is present could be limited.

Museums exhibiting dresses offer the opportunity ‘To take a peep at the private female life in years gone by… (and to) learn how women high born and lowly, spent or rather ennobled many a day of life in needlework, not merely gracefully but artistic.’[1]

The notion of taking a peep brings connotations to the surface about being forbidden to look at an object, person or dress.  Yet taking a peep invokes a reminder, revealing they are not to be possessed, but merely looked upon. Could this explain why they are always displayed in cases? Why is this so?   By displaying a dress it is a fixed moment in time when one (being the viewer) questions what is presented.  The fact they are displayed in cases leads to closure, something being encased in its resting place, before eventually disintegrating.

Jacques Lacan writes about display, infusing the notion of displaying an object in such a way that the object is transformed. Lacan uses ‘The Purloined Letter’ by Edgar Allan Poe [2] which has hidden meanings, to explain more about the notions of concealment. Poe’s ‘Letter’ comes from imaginative writing, the notion of writing about a mystery which is hidden underneath the surface of the text. ‘Poe’s ingenuity in unriddling a mystery was only ingenious in appearance, as he himself had woven the webs he so dexterously unweaves.’[3]  Here Poe plays with the reader, revealing that there is more to be learnt from the words on the page, indicating that we (the reader) should look to see what lies beneath.


[1] Ginsburg, M, Hart, A and Mendes, V.D with other members of the Department of Textiles and Dress referring to Rev. Daniel Rock’s Catalogue. (1870) Textile Fabrics in the South Kensington Museum in (1992). 400 Years of Fashion. London, Victoria and Albert Museum, p13.

[2] See ‘The purloined letter’ by Edgar Allan Poe in Ingram, J.H. (1874).The works of Edgar Allan Poe. Volume.1 Memoir- Tales. Edinburgh, R & R. Clark, p494- 513.

[3] Ingram, J.H. (1874).The works of Edgar Allan Poe. Volume.1 Memoir- Tales. Edinburgh, R.&R.Clark, pxlii.

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