Deciding what to wear is a daily decision, and every piece of clothing sends a message.

“Whether we’re conscious of it or not, we always are making decisions about how we dress and we’re communicating our ideas of aspiration of belonging, our defiance in those clothing choices we make, and that’s something everyone can relate to,” said Carolyn Brucken, chief curator at the Autry Museum.

What You Need To Know

  • "Dress Codes" at the Autry Museum explores the history behind some iconic clothing

  • It explores six enduring icons of Western style: Blue jeans, the plaid shirt, the fringed leather jacket, the aloha shirt, the China Poblana dress, and the cowboy boot

  • It features over 150 objects drawn primarily from the Autry’s extensive clothing and textile collection

  • The exhibit runs through Jan. 8, 2023

Brucken and her team spent the past five years curating a new exhibit called “Dress Codes” at the Autry Museum

“What men or women wear can be a dress code. How do you express your sexual identity can be a dress code. How you protest against norms or restrictions can be a breaking of dress codes,” Brucken said.

The exhibit was supposed to open in May 2020, but the pandemic had other plans and ended up forcing them to reschedule twice.

“If you’re a lover of blue jeans, we have a section on that. We’re standing in front of the aloha section where we look at the surprising history of the aloha shirt,” Brucken said.

There’s even one worn by President Truman, but Brucken’s favorite section is about the history of the plaid shirt, which may conjure up images of lumberjacks and ranchers, but actually takes on many unique identities.

“LA plaid has been worn by multiple subcultures outside the mainstream in LA from dockworkers in San Pedro to surf subcultures to low riders,” Brucken said.

She said in many of cases, the clothing itself has not changed all that much. What has changed is how people wear it. There’s also a section on the fringed leather jacket and China Poblana, a Mexican-American dress style. 

“You can see visitors having conversations throughout the exhibition. People are responding, connecting to the clothes on display and connecting them to their own lives and that’s what we hoped would happen,” Brucken said.

“I don’t really know if I thought that much about denim before or plaid,” said Amy Hand, who was visiting for the first time from Long Beach.

She said she enjoyed learning about how the various styles reflect Western culture. Jeans, once meant for the working class, are now common attire for the office and parties.

“We wear them every day, and it’s Americana,” Hand said.

Visitors are also encouraged to share their own thoughts about their favorite items of clothing and what fashion means to them. 

“We have clothes that go back to the 19th century as well as very contemporary things worn just yesterday,” Brucken said.

Over 150 objects, each with a story to uncover.

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