All Dressed Up with Someplace to Go

1, April 2016
Image of black halter crepe evening dress with green accents on a white background.Bias-cut halter crepe evening dress with green accents, ca. 1932–1935, on display in Little Black Dress. From the collections of the Missouri Historical Society.

When Little Black Dress: From Mourning to Night opens to the public on April 2, it will feature more than 60 dresses from the collections of the Missouri Historical Society, ranging from mid-19th-century mourning wear to sleek designs from the current day’s top designers. Each of these garments tells a fascinating story, from societal expectations for women to the evolution of the color black from sadness symbol to fashion staple. But a more practical story that you won’t see at the exhibit is how all these beautiful dresses physically made it into the same room.

The Missouri History Museum is lucky to boast two incredible campuses: the Museum building, housed in the Jefferson Memorial Building and Emerson Center on Lindell Boulevard, and the Library and Research Center (LRC), housed in the former United Hebrew Temple a short distance away on Skinker Boulevard. Whereas the Museum building is home to exhibits and the bulk of our programming, the LRC is home to our collection of objects, archives, and books. It's also where the journey of the dresses began, amid our nationally renowned textile collection.

Within the LRC is a 6,000-square-foot, climate-controlled, and humidity-controlled storeroom. This space, which also offers protection from harmful light exposure, is ideal for storing the delicate fabrics from which the dresses in Little Black Dress are made. However, when the time came to move the garments from the LRC across Forest Park to the Museum building, our Exhibitions and Research team had to get creative in order to maintain as safe an environment as possible for these priceless treasures.

Step #1: Find and clothe the perfect mannequins

Senior Curator Shannon Meyer spent several months finding perfectly sized mannequins to fit the delicate dresses and placing the dresses on their frames. This painstaking work happened at the LRC due to the need for a clean environment and enough workspace to fit each garment the exact right way.

Step #2: Crate the dressed mannequins

After each mannequin was dressed in its very own LBD, it was placed in a specially constructed crate. These crates kept the mannequins from falling over while still allowing the dresses to hang freely so they wouldn't be creased or crushed in transit.

Image of black dresses being prepared for their move to the Missouri History Museum from the Library and Research CenterLBDs were loaded into custom-made crates for their move across Forest Park.

Step #3: Move on out

Over multiple trips, each and every one of these crates was loaded into a truck and transported across Forest Park from the LRC to the Museum. (Talk about a high-pressure drive!)

Step #4: Make the dresses ready for their debut

After arriving in the exhibit space, each dress was removed, primped, and placed in its respective display case. The dresses will remain in their display cases for the next five months. During this time, they'll be carefully observed and light, temperature, and humidity levels will be tightly controlled to ensure as stable an environment as possible. At the end of the exhibit, the same process will happen in reverse, and the dresses will be returned to the LRC. 

So, when you visit Little Black Dress, take into account not only the incredible history of the dresses on display but also the months of preparation and organization that went into getting them to the exhibit space in the first place. It was no small feat!

Transporting History: Installing Little Black Dress

—Sam Moore, Online Communications Coordinator