Morris Museum Fashion Exhibit

Calling all fashion lovers! The Morris Museum is unveiling its rich costume collection to present an exhibition of 87 hats and 52 purses representative of style eras from the 1770’s to the 1970’s.

On the Head and In the Hand: 200 Years of Hats and Purses from the Morris Museum Collection will be on view through September 25, 2011. Twenty Judith Leiber bags from a private collection will also be on view beginning April 8, 2011.

The museum’s Costume Curator, Elizabeth Laba, describes the exhibition as illustrating the changes in fashion, fine design and craftsmanship in both hats and purses over the last 200 years, which accompanied the changing role of women.

Hats were a standard element of women’s attire until the late 20th century, when the social changes of the 1960’s led to more casual styles. The purses in the exhibition are smaller than today’s structured, larger bags, which became more prevalent beginning in the 20th century as women went to work and also traveled, needing something more substantial in which to carry personal items.

The purses on view are mostly small, sack-shaped, or with a small frame, with many examples of extraordinary beadwork, embroidery and weaving, incorporating semi-precious stones, and often giving the appearance of tapestry.

In describing the changes in fashion silhouettes over time, Laba quotes the composer Leonard Bernstein, who described changes over eras (in music) as “repetition and transformation”. Some of the designs, colors and materials in the exhibition are over two hundred years old, yet could be worn with contemporary styles; others reflect the materials and craftsmanship available in different eras.

One of the oldest pieces in the exhibition is a wool flame-stitch embroidered wallet which was used by a young man fighting in the Revolutionary War. Viewers will see how fashionable ladies in the 1770’s protected their hair from bad weather in a calash hat, which has a collapsible frame and is named for the 18th century hooded carriage with a similar frame. Some visitors will remember iconic styles, such as a Rosie the Riveter turban-like scarf worn by factory workers during World War II, a style later adopted by women at-large; and a pink pillbox hat from the 1960’s, similar to one worn by Jacqueline Kennedy. Hats by designers Christian Dior and Elsa Schiaparelli are featured in the exhibition.

The accessories selected for On the Head and In the Hand are grouped by decade, and show the changes not only in fashion, but also the influence of technology, for example in the availability of the sewing machine for home use in mid 19th century; of history, as reflected by style changes after women went to work outside the home in the 20th century; and of culture, such as the Egyptian design influences in accessories after the discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922.

Judith Leiber Bags

Twenty artful Judith Leiber bags from the collection of Sunny Turnquist of Morristown are also featured. Judith Leiber bags are renowned for creative styling and fine craftsmanship in unique luxury handbags and minaudières. Speaking of her bags, Leiber says, “I love to design beautiful objects that can be worn of course, whether it is made of alligator, ostrich, lizard or silk, or a great metal box/minaudiére that can be held in the lady's hand. Top quality is a great concern and it pleases me greatly to keep that paramount.” Judith Leiber bags are in the wardrobes of Hollywood celebrities, Queen Elizabeth and U.S. first ladies. This private collection includes fruit and vegetable and other minaudiéres as well as bejeweled and fine animal-skin clutches and handbags. 

 The Morris Museum explores and celebrates art, science, theater and history through exhibitions, educational programs, performing arts and special events. Founded in 1913, the museum serves over 200,000 adults and children each year. This exhibition was made possible, in part, by funds from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts; the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation; the F.M. Kirby Foundation and private donations. The Morris Museum, located at 6 Normandy Heights Road (at the corner of Columbia Turnpike) in Morristown, NJ, is open Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, 11:00 am to 5:00 pm; Thursday, 11:00 am to 8:00 pm; and Sunday, 1:00-5:00 pm

Admission to the museum is $10 for adults and $7 for children, students and senior citizens. Admission is free for museum members and is free to the public every Thursday between 5:00 and 8:00 pm.

For more information, call 973-971-3700, or visit


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