Detail shot of dress with lace

Silk for Suffragettes and Schoolchildren: The Impact of Kimono on European and American Design Practices, c. 1890-1980

May 29 – August 29, 2021; Old City Hall

Curated by Julia Sapin, Ph.D., Professor of Art History, Western Washington University

Americans and Europeans were crazy for kimono, and garments based on kimono, beginning in mid-nineteenth century, including fashionistas in Whatcom County. This exhibition focuses on kimono-inspired objects that have come into the Whatcom Museum’s collection over the last fifty years.

Primarily from Bellingham community members, this collection shows their strong interest in this fashion trend. These textile creations reveal American designers’ ingenuity in adapting aspects of the kimono for Western use. They also show the savvy of Japanese designers in anticipating Western demand and creating clothing designed to suit American and European lifestyles.

From a child’s pink crepe robe to an evening gown with “kimono” sleeves, these garments offer us a glimpse of this fashion frenzy, and the various ways in which it translated into novel patterns of wear in our very own community.


The Whatcom Museum acknowledges that we gather on the traditional territory of the Lhaq’temish – Lummi People – and the Nuxwsá7aq – Nooksack People – who have lived in the Coast Salish region from time immemorial. The Museum honors our relationship with all of our Coast Salish neighbors and our shared responsibilities to their homeland where we all reside today.