Threads of history: Washington State History Museum exhibit touches on life’s milestones through attire

Just inside the entrance to a gallery at the Washington State History Museum is a dress so red it looks as if it’s on fire. The gown, with its rose-like swirls of cloth, belongs to Yakima resident Laurel Tzintzun, who wore it at her 2013 quinceañera — a rite of passage for young Latinas.

It’s one of 50 exhibits in “Pomp & Circumstance: The Clothing of Transformation” which opens Saturday at the museum.

“When I go through our collections, what I ooh and aah about is the clothing and textiles. It’s a passion of mine,” said Jennifer Kilmer, the director of the Washington State Historical Society.

Kilmer curated “Pomp & Circumstance,” her first time stepping into the curator’s role.

Using Washington as her range, Kilmer selected both the ornate and the mundane as the show moves from culture to ceremony to era. As the common thread Kilmer chose rites of passage and ceremonies. Some of those are everyday, like graduations and marriage; others, like inaugurations and coronations, are rarefied.

The 1,000-square-foot show is broken into eight themes: birth and childhood, coming of age, weddings, graduations, initiations, inaugurations, military promotions and coronations. Kilmer wanted the clothing to represent beliefs and accomplishments.

“I really wanted traditions and events that most people could connect to. I am stretching the definition of rites of passage,” Kilmer said.

Kilmer said she wanted clothing from the wide variety of cultures in Washington. In order to do that, she reached out to several groups not represented in the museum’s collection.

In addition to the quinceañera dress, the museum also borrowed a doljanchi outfit and cap made for a Korean first birthday celebration in Tacoma. The ceremony involves placing a set of objects (microphone, baseball, stethoscope, pencil, etc.) in front of the child. Whatever the child reaches for is supposed to foretell his or her path in life.

One case holds a black graduation gown modified with Native American designs and accompanied by a woven cedar bark cap. Nearby is a jingle dress worn by Miss Muckleshoot in 1997.

Two gowns were worn to the presidential inaugurations of William McKinley and John F. Kennedy, while a third was worn by Gov. Chris Gregoire to her inauguration.

A spooky section of the show displays two costumes worn by members of the fraternal Oddfellows organization as they stood over a coffin — part of an initiation ceremony.

The coronation section contains four daffodil princess gowns. Nearby is an outfit Jerick Hoffer wore in his guise as Seattle drag queen Jinkx Monsoon. He wore the butterfly dress and towering tiara when he won season five of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”

Wedding gowns span cultures and decades, including one from 1894 and one worn by a Japanese-American bride just before she was interned during World War II.

Finding male attire proved much more difficult, Kilmer said.

“Every man I talked to said, ‘I’m still using my tuxedo’ or ‘I rented it,’ ” Kilmer said. She ended up displaying the green, blue and pink socks worn by Michael Shiosaki at his 2013 wedding to Seattle mayor Ed Murray.

“Pomp & Circumstance” runs through June 21, 2015.