Fashion After Dark Cleveland History Center

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Imagine a visual feast of shimmering silks, dazzling sequins, and sparkling gemstones. In the 19th century, gaslight and early electricity brought eveningwear to life in an otherworldly way.


The Cleveland Gas Light and Coke Company began production in 1849. America’s first gas companies largely supplied commercial establishments and street lamps, but as people built homes in the second half of the century, some were outfitted to receive gas. By the Civil War, over 380 gas companies existed in American cities.

Daylight stood in such stark contrast that some shops even offered specially lit rooms for choosing silks, and style writers recommended the best colors and fabrics for gaslight in particular. Some stores did advertise “evening rooms” where merchandise could be viewed in the dark and with gas fixtures. However, the merchant S. D. Condit & Co. advertised special holiday evening hours for silk shopping, assuring their customers that “Condit’s store, when lighted at evening, is as brilliant, so far as light and effect are concerned, as the drawing room, and it is far better to take advantage of this than to trust to selecting in rooms artificially darkened.”

Below stairs, working people kept homes with new lighting technologies running. Household staff in large homes cleaned lighting fixtures such as kerosene lamps, which became black and smoky from the flames. As new technology such as gas lighting developed, many people in service were likely happy to lessen the task of cleaning up after wax and oil. Yet, below stairs they were often left with the use of older technology for evening tasks such as small clothing repairs and polishing silver. Gas, and later electricity, profoundly altered their lives.

This exhibition will simulate the atmosphere of an evening on Euclid Avenue with immersive lighting and sound. Using the Hay-McKinney Mansion’s period rooms and bulbs that mimic gaslight and early electricity, vignettes of dressing, dining, entertaining, and household service will populate the home. The Hay-McKinney Mansion (1911) is the only fully restored house of its kind open to the public in Cleveland. Fashion and period rooms will work together to create a storybook atmosphere, transporting visitors back in time. In addition to luxurious interiors, the preserved servants’ spaces offer a look into working life “downstairs.”

Exhibition Supporters:

  • Presented by Patty and Rodger Kowall
  • Gertie and Homer Chisholm
  • Kevin and Shannon Callahan
  • Mrs. Chisholm Halle, Cindy Halle Inc.
  • Patrick Wiley and Greg Poplyk
  • Judy and Clifford Reeves Jr.
  • The Claire and Sandy McMillan Charitable Trust
  • Marjorie Comella in Memory of Cynthia Reece
  • Kate Halle Briggs
  • Pamela, Samuel, and Michael Halle

Fashion After Dark Family Experience

Mini Children’s Library in the Hay Reception Room

  • Families are invited to sit on the rug and get comfy with a book
  • A selection of books that connect to fashion, nighttime, and history
  • Story Time: every Friday an interpreter will present a children’s book in the space

Hands on History

  • What were kids doing after dark? Enjoy images of children from that time period from museum and library collections
  • Feel the fabric station
  • Dress up station with mirror and accessories
  • Design your own fashion plate with coloring pages


Many fashion critics recommended bright colors that would feel less garish in artificial lighting. Scarlet and gold silk satin and brocade gown, ca. 1883. Worn by Annie Otis Sanders (1855-1933). Gift of Harold T. Clark 46.812 Silks like this taffeta would have glowed in gaslight. Gold silk taffeta gown, ca. 1865. Worn by Kate Smith Hanna (1843-1919). Estate of Mr. and Mrs. Coburn Haskell 47.836

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Western Reserve Historical Society is the oldest cultural institution in Northeast Ohio, the region's largest American history research center, and one of the leading genealogical research centers in the nation.

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Cleveland History Center
10825 East Boulevard
Cleveland, Ohio 44106 ↗

(216) 721-5722

Thursday: 12:00 pm to 8:00 pm
Friday, Saturday, & Sunday: 10:00 am to 4:00 pm