From Bustles to Bikinis: A Century of Changing Beach Fashions

From Bustles to Bikinis, 1996, was a 7000 square foot special exhibition at the Museum of San Diego History in Balboa Park. The costume curator, Amy Simon, wanted to highlight the leisurewear in their collection. She brought me in to work with their team to develop the exhibition. We wanted visitors to think about what clothing reveals about how people went to the beach over the past 100 years, what types of activities the clothing allowed, and how clothing reveals our values an attitudes. I brought in a graphic designer, Irene Morris, and Ava Ferguson as exhibit text editor.

We organized the exhibition chronologically, creating seven vignettes from different time periods and at specific resort locations in San Diego County. Each vignette included: a 10’ high curved mural back-drop of an image of the location with text describing the fashion of the period; a panel on the history of the location designed in the style of the period; costumed mannequins with paper hair fashioned in period style; and a reading rail describing the technology of the fabrics with samples to touch. There was a swim suit time line showing a century of changing styles.

Throughout the exhibition were free standing panels with an image of a couple or family in sports wear of the period that explain why they are dressed the way they are. On the front was Public Appearances, on the other side was the Hidden Attitudes of the time. Some of the interactive areas were interpretive benches with photo albums of some of the resort locations, a station to write your memories on postcards, and at the end of the exhibition visitors used magnetic shapes to create the beach fashions of the future. In national evaluation study (Serrell, AAM 1998) this exhibition ranked in the top four of the most thoroughly used exhibitions.