All Dressed Up: Fashions for Children and Their Families

The first exhibition from The Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Art Splash Exhibition

Children’s fashion has often been sidelined in the art world: costumes and fashion in general has always been viewed as subpar to other artistic media and the debate about fashion as art goes on and on. Whether it’s because its function is utilitarian or because styles change so rapidly, fashion—especially kids’ fashion—hasn’t been taken all that seriously until recently.

And now there’s been a growing trend in the way the art world sees the sartorial. Many great institutions like The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Groninger Museum have had major successful exhibitions showcasing fashions both vintage and contemporary. And now with “All Dressed Up: Fashions for Children and Their Families,” the Philadelphia Museum of Art is bringing children’s fashion to the forefront. “I think that the history of dress is becoming more and more recognized as a discipline,” says H. Kristina Haugland, the exhibit’s curator.

“All Dressed Up: Fashions for Children and Their Families” was conceived last summer when it was decided that the Perelman Building, an annex of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, was going to have all exhibitions relate to the subject of children and children’s families. Fittingly named Art Splash, this series of five exhibitions offers families a look into children-themed art. “The original idea was to show big and little clothes together and it evolved into a more interactive exhibit that displays questions that are commonly asked by children and grown-ups,” says Haugland of “All Dressed Up,” the first of the exhibitions. Furnished with a large table with pencils and a wall filled with kids’ drawings, the interactive space is meant to be give insight into children’s fashion and induce a child’s imagination. “The hope was to spark children’s creativity,” says Haugland.

Spanning from the late 18th century to mid 20th century, the gallery shows a range of children’s and adult apparel and how it has changed throughout the years. Along with the clothes—including a little dress by Christian Dior—are five flip-up questions. They’re intended not only to show the evolution in style, but the change in ideologies and what one considers normal. “What is considered ordinary has changed. It’s about how we accept certain concepts without thinking about them. [The exhibition] is meant to show people to not just recognize their own preferences. Fashion is a product of our own culture,” says Haugland.

Along with displaying great clothes, the exhibit also shows the value of understanding the history of fashion. “The history of dress, fashion, and clothes is a very approachable thing because everyone has the experience of wearing clothes. It’s something that people can appreciate and understand. Fashion can inform about thoughts about technology and economics as well as the social history of the times,” says Haugland.