Follow the Thread

a textile & costume history blog from the Design Center at Thomas Jefferson University

Behind the scenes: photographing Womenswear


dress by Emilio Pucci, c. 1968, T&CC 1982.43.5

by Ann Wilson

We’ve been deep into the process of photographing our Womenswear since August of last year. We decided to start with our objects from the 1980s and work our way backward through the 70s, 60s, and so on. These fashions are a bit easier to fit onto our modern dress forms and are generally less fragile than our older pieces. We’re easing our way into the very challenging task of photographing garments on forms.

The process starts with measuring the garment. Once we know the bust, waist, and hip measurements in particular, we can choose which of our dress forms will work best. At this stage, I’ll take a photo of any designer or retailer labels that may be sewn into the dress. These labels are very useful in helping to date an object.

Often, the safest way to dress a form is to place the garment on a table, remove the dress form from its stand, and place the form in the garment while it’s laying down. We have several sets of muslin arm forms that we use to fill out the sleeves of the garment, from full length arms to upper arm “nubs.” If needed, we carefully give the garment a little steam to smooth out creases or wrinkles.

At this point, I experiment with lighting and take some test shots. Our current setup involves a white backdrop and five lights. The object is placed a few feet away from the backdrop and is lit from the sides. This trick allows the light to bring out the dimensionality of the garment rather than flattening it out, and since the backdrop is not directly lit, it often appears grey rather than stark white.

Once we’re happy with the lighting, I’ll take several shots of the front of the garment from a slight angle, which is usually more interesting than a straight on shot. I also take a shot of the back as well as several closeups of interesting details or to get a closer look at the textile.

This process is time consuming, but also very satisfying. A garment doesn’t really come to life until it is dressed on a form. We’ve fallen in love with many outfits that don’t look impressive on a hanger, but look fabulous on a form. Case in point, the dress below looks very odd on a hanger (photo at left), but comes to life as a marvel of draping in the 2nd and 3rd photos below.

Eventually, these pieces will make their way to our online collection. Here’s a peek at some more garments from the 80s, 70s, and 60s, that will posted to our digital collection in the coming months.

Special Collections Technician, Textile & Costume Collection, Thomas Jefferson University

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