This exhibition from the costume & textile collection displays distinctive fashion accessories which feature design elements created from animal life. An examination of these objects through a contemporary lens might likely determine that they do not meet modern acceptable standards. But during the era in which these accessories were created, such materials and usage were indeed agreeable and common in popular culture. The museum preserves such applications of animal products so that we may illustrate and educate the community concerning both the history of fashion and the evolution of societal standards.
One particularly curious accessory on exhibit is a top-handled handbag created from alligator skin (see gallery below). The bag features and maintains components of the animal’s body that are not usually highlighted such as the alligator’s head and paws.
This style bag was quite popular during the 1950s and appealed to a broad contingent of American consumers. The Sears and Roebuck Catalog offered a Cuban-made version of this bag described as “A fashion conversation piece” and priced at $16.98. Such bags were a staple of the mid-century Cuban tourist trade and were often sold at souvenir stands in southern Florida. Alligator skin is still used in today’s handbag industry, but this notion of displaying a somewhat lifelike and three-dimensional animal body on a bag is a bit offensive to the modern eye.
Click an image to view the larger version
top: front and rear views of alligator bag on exhibit
middle: label from alligator bag and advertisement for a similar bag
bottom: Beastly Fashion exhibit
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