TACOMA, Wash. — Timeless and elegant, the LBD is a modern-day expression of chic. But the history of black dresses is far more complicated.

A new exhibit at the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma explores more than a century of that history.

 "We span 150 years via 37 garments,” said Mary Mikel Stump, Director of Audience Engagement. "We were sort of joking that it's from mourning to night - m-o-u-r-n-i-n-g, because up until Coco Chanel the people that wore black were people in mourning, people in servitude, and women who were no longer virtuous."

Little Black Dress: A Fashion Evolution is a comparative exhibit of both style and women's ever-changing roles in society. Garments represent different decades from 1860 - 2010.

"In the 1860s, society was telling women what their place was. And in 2010, women were telling society what their place is,” Stump said.

Sizing also changed dramatically over the years. The museum had to use children's mannequins for some of the 19th-century displays to accurately represent tiny waists, cinched tight with corsets.

A hands-on room invites visitors to feel the history by trying on accessories, touching a dozen different kinds of fabric, or putting on weighted aprons to experience what it was like to wear a 25-pound dress in the 1880s.

"To look at each one of these dresses and see that evolution really gives you a full understanding of where women started and where we are now,” Stump said. "It was a really interesting thing to explore."

Little Black Dress: A Fashion Evolution runs through December 5. The museum is also hosting an LBD fashion show from 6-9 pm on October 18. Tickets are available online, and members get in free.

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