Fashion After Dark


Fashion After Dark, is Opens September 21, 2023 at the Cleveland History Center. Presented by Patty and Rodger Kowall.

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.


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


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.”


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

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


Associated Events:

Opening Party | September 21, 2023
Haunted History on Tap | October 26, 2023
Winter’s Eve Mystery Series | Thursdays, November 30 – December 28, 2023
Valentine’s Day Tea | February 11, 2024
Solar Eclipse Celebration | April 7, 2024
Mother’s Day Tea | May 12, 2024


Open September 21, 2023 – June 30, 2024.  


Join Us for our Grand Opening on September 21 from 6 – 8pm!

Join us for the opening ceremony of our newest exhibit, Fashion After Dark. Enjoy drinks, hors d’oeuvres, and live music with special remarks from Patty Edmonson, Museum Advisory Council Curator of Costume & Textiles.

Event Highlights:

  • Hors d’oeuvres
  • Open Bar
  • Tour of the exhibit
  • Access to museum galleries
  • Special playing of music box