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Becoming Gendered
Garment as Gender Artifact

On view through November 2024

New to the John L. Wehle Gallery in May of 2023, Becoming Gendered, Garment as Gender Artifact is a multimedia exhibit exploring how 19th-century Americans performed and navigated the changing landscape of gendered fashion.

Admission to the John L. Wehle Gallery is included with general Museum admission. 


This exhibit is sponsored by: 

Navigating the changing landscape of gender

Clothing is a language we all speak.

How we dress provides the world with visual cues to interpret our identity. Color, fabric, texture, cut, and design are the tools of speech in the language of garment.

Gender is a dialect of this wearable language. Changes in fashion parallel changes in our understanding of gender. What it means to be a man or a woman, both, or neither, evolves across the decades.  So too, do the garments that allow us to inhabit our gender identities.

Ultimately, we must again ask ourselves if we make the clothing, or if the clothing makes us.   

Exploring gender through fashion

Becoming Gendered offers guests a wide variety of historic gendered garments for men, women, and children spanning over a century. Hegemonic gendered clothing for adult men and women is compared to the development of recreational and leisurewear. Understructures for men, women and even children are exhibited as evolving tools worn to achieve gendered ideals.  Challenging these 19th-century gendered norms in fashion and garment are the Dandy, the Bloomer, Dress Reformers and Women’s Rights advocates, the lady cyclist, female impersonators, and religious leaders such as the Public Universal Friend. Hodinöhsö:ni’ garment is exhibited as an entry-point into the discussion of how the Western gender binary system directly affects the gendering of 19th-century Hodinöhsö:ni’ clothing.  

Curatorial talks and guest speakers will further enrich this exhibit.

Garment as gendered artifact

Visitors to Becoming Gendered will explore the changing landscape of gender throughout the 19th century through a variety of media. Historic fashion is complemented by historic imagery in the form of daguerreotypes, ambrotypes, tin types, cabinet cards, carte de visite, and early 20th-century photography. These images both record and depict how Americans actually dressed in the 19th and early 20th centuries, conveying the nuances of visualized gender identities and gender roles to modern eyes. Portraiture of children illustrates the gendering of children and children’s bodies. At the same time, newspapers, theatrical and minstrel broadsides, sartorial illustrations, and fashion plates display the lively discussion around gender and gendered clothing that has remained relevant into the present.

Micro-Exhibit: Factually Frocked

To supplement “Becoming Gendered: Garment as Gender Artifact,” GCV&M presents a new micro-exhibit for 2024: “Factually Frocked: Gendering Children in 19th-Century America.” 
This exhibit by GCV&M curatorial staff presents an educational opportunity to address questions and misconceptions surrounding gendered children’s clothing in the 19th century, particularly boys in frocks. This micro-exhibit features original imagery from the 19th century of boys and girls in various stages of childhood development, wearing various modes of gendered clothing – from infant long gowns, to little boys’ and girls’ frocks, to pantalettes, and little boys’ suits. This array of historical gendered clothing for children reveals design elements that address not only practical concerns like toilet training, but also reveal how 19th-century Americans thought of children in relation to the gender roles and expectations assigned to adults. 

Exploring patterns for historic pieces featured in "Becoming Gendered"

A number of historic corsets on display in Becoming Gendered have been reverse-engineered by Curator Brandon W. Brooks, and will be available for free download through GCV&M’s Historic Pattern Database, along with instructions for printing and usage at home.