Food & Culture

A MOHAI Exhibit Explores Seattle’s Fashion History

It's not all about flannel and Gore-Tex

By Gavin Borchert May 15, 2019


What is the defining characteristic of Seattle’s fashion sense? Not caring about fashion? (Or merely pretending not to care?) Taking on this slippery question, the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) ransacked its holdings of clothing and accessories, from the mid-1800s to today. The result is the carefully curated exhibit, Seattle Style: Fashion/Function, running through October 14.

You’ve probably heard the jokes about Seattle fashion, most of them with “fleece” in the punch line. And it’s true that the prioritization of practicality has been a hallmark of the way we dress—and of how we think about the way we dress—since Seattle was a city, as quotes on the gallery walls from Seattleites make clear. My favorite, from designer Marie Hills, from 1956: “Women here want a skirt that will get them from a muddy driveway to a wiener roast.”

Clothes on display range from snowsuits to couture, from a seersucker gym-class frock to a Generra Hypercolor sweatshirt, c. 1991. The most fun is the display of evening wear; without looking at the wall labels, see if you can guess which gowns are 10 years old and which are 110. (I bet you can’t.) There are nods to our iconic suppliers (Eddie Bauer, REI), our manufacturers (UNIONBAY, Tommy Bahama, B.U.M., Shah Safari) and our grand downtown temples of retail, especially those no longer with us (Frederick & Nelson, I. Magnin, The Bon Marche). 

Behind-the-scenes videos salute designer Luly Yang and high-end outerwear maker Filson, and flamboyant suit jackets pay homage to John Doyle Bishop (1913–1980), fashion guru to Seattle’s upper crust. Marvel at a World’s Fair-patterned day dress; shirts from 1952 covered in Seattle centennial logos; author Lindy West’s actual flower-bedecked wedding dress; and (the exhibit’s climax) a cap and cardigan owned by Kurt Cobain, recalling that brief shining moment when grunge, an anti-fashion movement if ever there was one, rose from the Northwest’s Value Village outlets to conquer the runways of the world. MOHAI is even looking to the future of local fashion, hosting a show of designs by Seattle Pacific University students this Friday, May 17, at 7 p.m. ($10–$20).

Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI), South Lake Union, 860 Terry Ave. N; 206.324.1126;

Follow Us

Empowering Students through Photography  | Sponsored

Empowering Students through Photography | Sponsored

The arts are an important part of youth and education. Art teaches us to look at the world beyond ourselves and at the beauty of everyday occurrences around us and within each other. Started by high school photography instructors, the Washington State High School, Photography Competition (WSHSPC), believes all children should have the opportunity to speak…

Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas' 'Carpe Fin' Tells Its Story at Seattle Art Museum

Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas’ ‘Carpe Fin’ Tells Its Story at Seattle Art Museum

Commissioned by SAM, the new piece is a 6-by-19-foot watercolor mural condensing a Haida folktale into one immense color-drenched panel

This article appears in print in the November 2019 issue. Click here to subscribe. Sensing an affinity between the iconography of his First Nation art tradition and the boldness and sweep of the Japanese film/graphic-novel visual style known as manga, Haida visual artist and British Columbia resident Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas combines the two—“committed to,” as he puts it,…

Seattle Fall Arts Preview: Inside the New Burke Museum

Seattle Fall Arts Preview: Inside the New Burke Museum

The new Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture invites visitors to interact with the cultures and objects that document our world

Rendering of the new Burke Museum’s lively lower lobby

National Nordic Museum Photo Exhibit Is a Must-See for Pop Culture and History Buffs

National Nordic Museum Photo Exhibit Is a Must-See for Pop Culture and History Buffs

A soon-to-close exhibit showcases the powerful lens of Swedish photographer Hasse Persson

IRON FIST: President Nixon was one of many political and pop cultural figures captured on camera by Swedish photojournalist Hasse Persson; an exhibit of his work is at the National Nordic Museum