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New Exhibition Reveals 2,500 Years of Style

September 22, 2021

Jill DiSanto, Public Relations Director


Photo of "The Stories We Wear" exhibit
Image: The Stories We Wear. Photo: Eric Sucar, University Communications

PHILADELPHIA — The Penn Museum unveils fashion and apparel across time with The Stories We Wear, a new exhibition opening to the public Saturday, September 25, 2021.

Showcasing 2,500 years of style through approximately 250 remarkable objects, The Stories We Wear invites guests to identify common threads woven into stories that transcend language, culture, and time to connect people through shared experiences.

Curated by Dr. Lauren Ristvet, Robert H. Dyson Curator in the Penn Museum’s Near East Section; Dr. Sarah Linn, Research Liaison in the Academic Engagement Department; and Dr. Jane Hickman, Consulting Scholar to the Mediterranean Section, the nearly 3,700 square-foot exhibition features a spectacular array of clothing, jewelry, uniforms, regalia, and tattoos— powerful expressions of identity that have purpose and meaning.

“Today, we often dismiss fashion as frivolous,” said Lead Curator Dr. Lauren Ristvet. “But our appearances are important. The way we dress communicates who we are and what we do.”

Organized into five themes, The Stories We Wear explores dressing for:

  • Work and Play, illustrated by a full Philadelphia Eagles uniform loaned to the Museum by former linebacker Connor Barwin and the outfit worn by chaski runners as they delivered important messages in the mountains of Peru during the Inka empire;
  • Battle, including the armor of Samurai warriors from Japan, with a sword dating to 1603, along with Kiribati weapons from the 1800s;
  • Performance, highlighting a stunning satin opera robe from China during the Qing Dynasty (19th century); a velvet gown (ca. 1938) worn by Marian Anderson—on loan from the National Marian Anderson Museum & Historical Society; a theatrical ensemble from Thweeney Todd: The Flaming Barber of Fleek Street, on loan from 2018 Drag Queen of the Year Eric Jaffe; and, on loan from the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection at Drexel University’s Westphal College of Media Arts & Design, a James Galanos cocktail dress inspired by Marilyn Monroe;
  • Ceremony, featuring the traditional wedding attire of a Hopi bride (circa 1900) and the headdress of a Buddhist priest from 16th century Nepal; and to
  • Rule, highlighting a Coclé chief’s burial regalia (circa 750-1000 CE) from modern-day Panama, and an intricately beaded 1964 Hubert de Givenchy gown worn by Grace Kelly, Serene High Princess Grace of Monaco, also on loan from the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection.

“Museum work is about telling stories, and the timeless stories behind what we wear are fascinating,” said Dr. Christopher Woods, the Williams Director at the Penn Museum. “The Stories We Wear opens up another way to make anthropology and archaeology accessible to all: through style and fashion.”

The Opening Day celebration for The Stories We Wear includes pop-up talks with curators, make-and-take art activities, live performances, and a “meet and greet” with former Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin. As a part of its Opening Day, the Penn Museum is hosting a clothing drive to benefit Project HOME and The Wardrobe.

The Stories We Wear is included with Museum admission and will be on display through June 12, 2022. Tickets are now available online.


About the Penn Museum
The Penn Museum’s mission is to be a center for inquiry and the ongoing exploration of humanity for our University of Pennsylvania, regional, national, and global communities, following ethical standards and practices. Through conducting research, stewarding collections, creating learning opportunities, sharing stories, and creating experiences that expand access to archaeology and anthropology, the Museum builds empathy and connections across diverse cultures.

The Penn Museum is open Tuesday-Sunday, 10:00 am-5:00 pm. It is open until 8:00 pm on first Wednesdays of the month through March. The Café is open Tuesday-Thursday, 9:00 am-3:00 pm and Friday and Saturday, 10:00 am-2:00 pm. For information, visit, call 215.898.4000, or follow @PennMuseum on social media.