CODART, Dutch and Flemish art in museums worldwide

Rijk gekleed 1750-1914

Dress to impress 1750-1914 Exhibition: 23 September 2005 - 22 January 2006

From the museum website

Museum Willet-Holthuysen presents Dress to impress 1750-1914, a selection of highlights from the City of Amsterdam’s costume collection. This is a unique collection, thanks to its size, scope and high quality. A variety of ladies’, gentlemen’s and children’s clothing has been carefully stored for many years in depots. In the past the fragility of these costumes has always prevented their exhibition. Now, expert conservation, restoration and thorough research have made it possible for the collection’s treasures to be brought out of storage. It is high time the public enjoyed an opportunity to admire these outstanding costumes.

Restoration process

A robe-manteau from c.1750 is one of the earliest costumes in the collection. This unique, hand-painted silk gown is decorated with more than 80 (!!) different types of flower and 11 kinds of butterfly. Thanks to restoration over the past months this costume can now be displayed. A film with images of the entire restoration process will be shown as part of the exhibition.


The range of costumes, in particular the gowns, reveal how clothing changed over the years to reflect prevailing fashions. A fine example of these changes is provided by the pink striped gown from the 19th century. The fat, puffed sleeves of 1830s fashion have disappeared, while the skirts have become fuller and reach to the ground again. The decolleté is filled with a batiste chemisette with a broad, lace-trimmed collar. The gown was owned and worn by Geertrui Springer-ten Cate, wife of the well-known painter Cornelis Springer. In 1847 she had the gown immortalized in a portrait. Gown and portrait will be exhibited together.

Special clothes

The costumes in Dress to impress were not worn on an everyday basis but were generally special clothing for festive occasions or particular events. They have been preserved because they have not suffered damage or wear through daily use, or been ruined by the depredations of time or vermin.

Dress to impress will display more than 50 costumes, with shoes, accessories and fashion prints completing the presentation. Never before has a collection fitted as seamlessly into the ambience of Museum Willet-Holthuysen as does the clothing in Dress to impress. Which is why the costumes will be displayed throughout the canal house, with ball-gowns in the ballroom, underclothes in the bedroom and gentlemen’s suits in the elegant blue room. The usual exhibition areas on the top floor will provide a serene and stylish setting for an overview of costume history.

The unique composition of Dress to impress 1750-1914 will offer an impressive view of the City of Amsterdam’s costume collection, a collection that has largely been assembled thanks to gifts. Costume lovers will feast their eyes on clothing from a lost age. For a brief moment visitors will feel as if they are guests in a mansion where people still live, where ladies’ dresses, ball-gowns, corsets, petticoats, children’s clothing, christening gowns, mantillas and gentlemen’s suits each have their own story to tell.

Silver Scissors

A collaborative venture involving the museum and Silver Scissors was set up especially for the exhibition. Silver Scissors is a girls’ centre in the east of Amsterdam where girls between the ages of 14 and 22 get together to draw their own patterns and make clothes. They also take part in an art project every year. Inspired by the many different dresses in the museum collection, the girls of Silver Scissors set to work on their own designs.