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Stunning Landmark Historic Clothing Exhibition Brings Maine History to Life

Stunning Landmark Historic Clothing Exhibition Brings Maine History to Life

January 27, 2022

Two Centuries of Dress at Maine Historical Society

March 16 – December 31, 2022

Portland, ME: Come for the clothes, stay for the history! MHS brings historic clothing and fashion to the modern audience in a much-anticipated exhibition. NORTHERN THREADS: Two Centuries of Dress at Maine Historical Society shares Maine history up close and personal with an exciting two-part exhibit.

Central to MHS’ 200th anniversary, NORTHERN THREADS considers how the clothing Maine people wore during the late 18th to mid-20th centuries reveals the social, economic, and environmental history of our state. Over the course of the year, NORTHERN THREADS explores key themes such as fabric production and accessibility, societal expectations, the fur trade’s devastating impact on Maine’s wildlife and ecology, and women’s independence. NORTHERN THREADS illuminates history though never-before-exhibited pieces in the MHS permanent collection, and highlights unprecedented online public access via Maine Memory Network.

Ideally, visitors will attend both installations at MHS’ Congress Street Gallery to be immersed in remarkable vignettes (or scenes) based on different themes. Vignettes feature beautifully dressed, individually crafted mannequins and cased artifacts, emphasizing specific time periods, trends, fibers, themes, and communities or individuals that contextualize the garments into distinct aspects of Maine and American history.

Part I: Clothing circa 1780-1889
Open March 16 to July 30, vignettes include the 1830s Gigot Sleeve; Civil War Era Fashions; Mourning Attire and Practices; Fabric’s Adaptive Re-Use; the Bustle Deconstructed; and Outerwear, as well as Silhouettes in Sequence.

Part II: Clothing circa 1890-1980
Open August 12 to December 31, vignettes include Maine’s Gilded Age; 1920s-1930s Fashions; Women at Work; Chemistry and Fashion; Bridal and Formalwear; Swimwear; and Outerwear, as well as Silhouettes in Sequence.

Virtual Access
A 3-D virtual tour and detailed digital exhibit will increase public access 24/7 for those unable to visit the gallery in person, or for guests seeking to explore additional aspects of the MHS Historic Clothing, Costume and Dress Collection portal. Online access is available through our award-winning Maine Memory Network digital history platform.

Public Programs
Exciting public and educational programming are also in the works, including a March 22nd talk on MHS’ historic clothing collection with textile/dress historian, and NORTHERN THREADS consulting curator, Jacqueline Field; and an April 13th talk with Richard Thompson Ford on Dress Codes: How the Laws of Fashion Made History.

Companion Exhibits
In-person mini-exhibits in the MHS galleries throughout the year will feature: Parisian fashion drawings from the Mildred Burrage collection, circa 1920; Fashion Illustrations from the John Martin Journals; Maine Graphic Tees; and Wadsworth-Longfellow family historic clothing, 1780-1825 on view in the popular Wadsworth-Longfellow House during the peak summer season.

Visit throughout 2022 for NORTHERN THREADS programming updates, and for developing news on MHS’ 200th anniversary.

How to Plan a Visit to the Two-Part NORTHERN THREADS Exhibition
Go to for details on admission, timed-ticketing, and planning your visit to the MHS Gallery.

Access for MHS members is free; non-member adults $10; children (6-17) $5, and under 6, free. Join before you book! Membership information is available here.

NORTHERN THREADS is made possible by contributors, partners, and donors, including:

BHA Foundation Fund
Margaret E. Burnham Charitable Trust
Elsie A. Brown Fund, Inc.
The Coby Foundation for Textiles, Ltd.
The Davis Family Foundation
Down East Magazine (Media Sponsor)
Institute of Museum & Library Services
William Sloane Jelin Foundation
The Morton-Kelly Charitable Trust
Karen and Kirk Pelletier
Deborah S. Reed
The Phineas W. Sprague Memorial Foundation
Doris S. Stockly

For more information:

Maine Historical Society
489 Congress Street, Portland, ME 04101

Maine Historical Society preserves and shares Maine's story to enrich life in contemporary Maine.