What Seattleites wear—past and present—reveals something captivating about the city’s sartorial spirit. Seattle Style: Fashion/Function highlights how elegance and practicality co-existed and converged in Seattle wardrobes, providing new insights into local clothing ranging from couture to grunge aesthetics.
The most significant exhibit to date featuring Pacific Northwest regional style, and the most prominent showcase of MOHAI’s clothing collection, Seattle Style: Fashion/Function explores the sensibility of Seattle fashion, bringing together men’s and women’s fashions from the mid-1800s to today.
Seattle Style: Fashion/Function is presented by Nordstrom.
Curated by MOHAI’s Collections Specialist for Costumes and Textiles Clara Berg, Seattle Style: Fashion/Function showcases the complex history of clothing in Seattle, including its innovations, its influence, and its connections to the broader fashion world.
No single style defines this region. Instead, when we look at the clothing made and worn here, enduring themes emerge: influences of the weather, ambition, a casual nature, and a spirit of people forging a new path. Alone, few of these are unique to Seattle. But when woven together, a distinct local story arises.
The garments and accessories featured in Seattle Style: Fashion/Function offer captivating insights into the city’s sartorial spirit. Here are a few of their stories:
During an excursion on the Olympic Peninsula in 1935, local outdoorsman and retailer Eddie Bauer’s wool garments became soaked with freezing rain and he started to experience serious signs of hypothermia.
After his near-death experience, Bauer set out to make a better coat for cold weather activities, one that would be lighter and warmer and allow for good air circulation. Bauer’s design was a game changer and something new for the US outdoor industry. His puffy down coat used quilting to keep its thickness even throughout.
This artifact is the earliest known surviving down jacket made by Eddie Bauer.
This gown is from the couture house of Elsa Schiaparelli, likely during Hubert de Givenchy’s design tenure in the early 1950s.
The wearer, Ruth Schoenfeld Blethen Clayburgh, was a prominent arts patron who the Seattle Times once described as “equal parts generous and stylish.” Clayburgh attended and organized many of Seattle’s most glamorous fundraising events—ones worthy of such a gown.
KnitYak is where Seattle’s tech and apparel communities intersect. Launched in 2015, the company combines industrial knitting with inventive computer programming. Each stitch acts like a screen pixel: black and white stitches represent binary 0s and 1s.
KnitYak patterns are recognizable to those familiar with code. For this one, triangles are a clue. Rule 90 of the elementary cellular automata produces this distinct triangle pattern, called the Sierpinski triangle.
Mariano Fortuny and his wife Henriette first created finely pleated “Delphos” gowns in 1907. It was an unabashedly modernist look because the dress could be worn without a corset.
Fittingly, this dress came to the museum collection through Zoë Dusanne, a forward-thinking modernist and Seattle’s first professional modern art dealer. Purple was Dusanne’s signature color.
The idea for Clear Coated raincoats came from an all-too-familiar Seattle experience. Seattle designer Miriam Reynolds Rigby tired of countless days dressing up in an interesting outfit, only to cover it up with a dreary raincoat.
Rigby’s “Colette” design features sets of snaps, arranged in a triangle, to allow for a narrower or wider fit. The cuffs can be wide or snap closely to the wrist. The original intention was to highlight the clothing under the coat. However, the futuristic aesthetic of Clear Coated’s rainwear is visually striking in its own right.
The riding habit is one of the oldest types of sportswear for women, and often incorporates elements of traditional menswear. This one has a tailored skirt that fits tightly around the legs. The hem appears asymmetrical when standing, but when the wearer is mounted sidesaddle, it hangs straight. In addition to being a starting point for sports and casual clothing, the riding habit was also the earliest incarnation of the women’s suit.
This riding habit was an early donation to the museum from the John Collins family. John Collins came to Seattle in the 1860s and was Seattle’s fourth mayor. This may have belonged to his wife Angela, or to one of his daughters—Edana or Catherine.
The perfect gift for history buffs and fashion enthusiasts alike, this beautiful 144-page hardcover book tells the story of Seattle fashion through captivating full-color photographs and behind-the-scenes insights into more than fifty specially selected garments and accessories from the museum’s collection.
Edited by exhibit curator Clara Berg, with a foreword by internationally known Seattle-based fashion designer Luly Yang, Seattle Style unveils the complex narrative of Seattle’s vibrant clothing scene.
Pick up your copy at MOHAI Mercantile.
Explore our newest exhibit, featuring what Seattleites wear—past and present—in an intimate, docent-led tour of Seattle Style: Fashion/Function.
Learn more about our docent’s favorite garments and deepen your knowledge of Seattle style. Tours available by advance reservation weekday afternoons and Saturdays.
Capacity: 15 people
Availability: Monday–Friday, 1–4 pm and Saturday, 11 am–4 pm
Additional fees: $30/tour
Advance reservations: 2 weeks
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Many thanks to all the individuals who advised and participated in the development of the Seattle Style: Fashion/Function exhibit.
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