You can experience over 150 years of women’s sporting fashion pioneered by fearless women at the Figge Art Museum this spring.

The new Figge exhibit opens on Tuesday, Feb. 14 and will be on view through May 7, 2023 (courtesy of American Federation of Arts).

“Sporting Fashion: Outdoor Girls 1800 to 1960,” a traveling exhibit organized by the American Federation of Arts and the FIDM Museum at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising, Los Angeles, opens to Figge members on Saturday, Feb. 11, and to the public on Tuesday, Feb. 14.

Thanks to the Figge’s Major Exhibitions Endowment, “Sporting Fashion” will be at the museum (225 W. 2nd St., Davenport) through May 7, 2023. It’s only the third museum in the country (and first west of Ohio) to feature the exhibit.

The Figge endowment was established by through the generous donations of individuals, families, businesses, and organizations across the Quad Cities community in 2018 and enables the museum to present a major exhibition every other year in perpetuity, according to a Figge release.

“Sporting Fashion” will be the third major exhibition shown since the endowment began. “Sporting Fashion: Outdoor Girls 1800 to 1960” will be on view in the Figge’s third- and fourth-floor galleries and is the first exhibit to explore the evolution of women’s sporting attire in Western fashion over this 160-year period, the Figge said.

Bowling ensemble, 1950s (photo: Brian Davis, FIDM Museum, courtesy of American Federation of Arts).

Sixty-four fully accessorized ensembles comprised of more than 480 historic objects selected from the exceptional collections of the FIDM Museum will be featured.

“This twelve-year project took us down many paths as we gathered together the very rare objects, many not found in other museum collections,” said Kevin L. Jones, curator at the FIDM Museum. “Every single woman you see represented in these clothes was the modern woman of her time, whether it was the 1820s or the 1920s.”

Exhibit curator Kevin Jones speaks at the Figge Art Museum Feb. 10, 2023 (Jonathan Turner,

“I’ve never been here before and I love your institution, the museum, collection and staff,” Jones said at a media preview Friday. “It’s been a real honor to be here over the last three week, installing ‘Sporting Fashion.'”

He’s been working with the Figge over five years to bring the big exhibit here.

Jones credited the museum’s curatorial staff, Joshua Johnson and Vanessa Sage, as “fantastic,” who “bent over backwards to make sure that we had everything we needed in order to do the installation as smoothly as possible.

“And this is a big installation,” he said. “It’s a lot of delicate objects, requiring coordination before we got here, including the platforms in the galleries. It was literally an army’s worth of work, that we appreciate so much.”

“Sporting Fashion” was the longest and most complex installation (over five weeks) the Figge has had in the past seven years, Johnson said Thursday, noting it’s also their first fashion exhibit. It came to the museum in three semi-trailers, he noted.

Sage said there was also painstaking precision in placing of the mannequins and the look of all the outfits.

Gardening ensemble, 1830s (photo by Brian Davis, FIDM Museum, courtesy of American Federation of Arts)

“We’re both personally thrilled,” Johnson said. “We’ve been talking about it for a long time,” Sage said. “I think it was really exciting.”

“It’s an element of art and design that hasn’t been represented here before, so it’s nice to bring it to the community,” Johnson said. “Each of these garments represents hundreds, if not thousands, of man hours to make”

The Figge is offering the largest exhibit space for “Sporting Fashion” (over two floors), and just the third museum nationwide to showcase it (among six total over three years), after Memphis and Pittsburgh, Jones said.

“It gives us more elbow room to walk around the ensembles in these huge galleries,” he said. “We have space to spread everybody out.”

Eight themes featured

Organized into eight themes including Stepping Outdoors, Further Afield, Taking the Reins, Making Waves, Subzero Style, Wheels and Wings, Having a Ball, and A Team Effort, “Sporting Fashion” explores how clothing met the needs of new pursuits for women, while at the same time preserving their socially approved, restricted mobility.

Behind the scenes of sun-tanning ensemble with 1930s Jantzen swimsuit (photo: Brian Davis, FIDM Museum, courtesy of American Federation of Arts).

Garments for swimming and tanning illustrate how innovative designers and manufacturers responded to the increasing acceptance of exposed skin at beaches and pools; winter sports ensembles show how apparel for pastimes such as skiing and ice-skating protected female participants from the elements; and ensembles for cycling, motoring, and flying—often adapted from men’s athletic gear—reveal how women navigated open roads and skies.

To complement the artifacts on view biographies of important sportswomen will further situate sporting fashion in the broader context of women’s social history, the Figge said.

With over 150 years of fearless fashion on view, this exhibition highlights ensembles that defined women’s participation in the sporting world as athletes and spectators, giving museum visitors the opportunity to experience the lives of Western women who dared to step outside in search of a better and more active life.

Baseball ensemble with Spalding cleats, 1930s (photo: Brian Davis, FIDM Museum, courtesy of American Federation of Arts).

Each ensemble featured in the collection represents an era’s sporting fashion presented at its peak and the trailblazing women who found a way to participate in the outdoor sports they were interested in by inventing appropriate attire.

Their contributions made outdoor activities and sports more accessible and socially permissible for all women; and the fashions that they created established the basic women’s sportswear fashion of today.

Fashion is fitting to be shown off in an art museum, because it’s a mode of artistic expression, “and what is more personal than the body itself, and what it’s wrapped in?” Jones said. “The idea of art has expanded. Photography was once not considered art; performance was once not considered art in a museum setting — same thing with fashion.

“Fashion has been in art museum settings for 150 years,” he said. The FIDM Museum opened in L.A. in 1978.

Cheerleading ensemble, 1950s (photo: Brian Davis, FIDM Museum, courtesy of American Federation of Arts).

Unique to the Figge’s installation, loans including a 1911 Ford Model T Torpedo Roadster from Steve and Lisa Dierks; a wardrobe trunk, circa 1910, from Davenport’s Putnam Museum and Science Center; a 1965 Harley Davidson FLHB Electra Glide Motorcycle from the Harley Davidson Museum; a model A Lindsay Roadster, circa 1890, from LeClaire’s Antique Archaeology, as well as a grouping of ephemera and photos related to Amelia Earhart from the Smithsonian National Postal Museum will be on display.

These items provide further context to the times in which the featured garments were being worn.

Michelle Hargrave, executive director of the Figge Art Museum, Davenport.

“We are excited to welcome the very first fashion exhibition to the Figge,” said Figge executive director Michelle Hargrave. “When the Major Exhibitions Endowment was created in 2018, the goal was to bring to the Quad Cities exhibitions that our community would not typically have the opportunity to see.

“This important exhibition tells the story of women’s persistent determination to participate in sports and other outdoor pursuits through 160 years of fashion, and we’re thrilled to be able to share it with our community,” she said.

There are brief historical film clips that are shown in the exhibit, to complement the items and reflect how some of them were worn, Hargrave said.

“Fashion exhibitions are presented in museums all over the world, from the Met to MOMA,” she said. “The wonderful thing about fashion in an exhibition like this is, it’s not only beautiful, there’s scholarship here, there’s artistic merit. But at the same time, it’s relatable — everybody wears clothes.”

Skiing ensemble, 1930s (photo: Brian Davis, FIDM Museum, courtesy of American Federation of Arts).

“You can appreciate the beauty, the technique and maybe see yourself wearing that and what it would have been like,” Hargrave said. “For me, it provides a window into different cultures and worlds and time periods. It also serves as a repository for lives lived.”

The Figge exhibit notes several trailblazing women in a variety of fields, and their stories, and it’s all U.S. fashion.

Nab a free drink

The Figge is partnering with Downtown Davenport businesses for “A Sporting Good Time” promotion that provides Figge visitors (adult, paid admission) with a sports “ticket” redeemable for a free alcoholic beverage/drink during the run of the exhibition.

Participating businesses include Endless Brews, Blackhawk Bowl, City Loafers, Zeke’s Island Café, Raccoon Motel, Cavort QC, Sippis American Grill and Craft Beer, Me & Billy, Mississippi River Distilling Company Downtown Lounge, Armored Gardens, Devon’s Complaint Department and Analog Arcade Bar.

Visit the Figge website HERE starting Tuesday, Feb. 14 for complete details on their drink menus.

Motorcycling ensemble, 1930s (photo: Brian Sanderson, FIDM Museum, courtesy of American Federation of Arts).

Additionally, two life-size cutouts will be touring around the QC for the “Get in the Game” promotion. Participating businesses will host life-sized cardboard cutouts that are designed to encourage community members to visit the participating business, pose/create a scene with the cutouts and post those images to social media, tagging the Figge and the participating business.

The Figge will track tags/mentions each week, and at the end of the week draw a winner from that week’s participant pool who will receive the hosting business’ giveaway and two general admission tickets to the Figge.

Ice skating ensemble, 1810s (photo: Brian Davis, FIDM Museum, courtesy of American Federation of Arts).

Participating businesses include Hotel Blackhawk Bowl and Martini Lounge, City Loafers, NorthPark Mall, SouthPark Mall, The River’s Edge, Quad City Botanical Center, Putnam Museum, Watermark Corners, Davenport Public Library and Freight House Farmers’ Market.

“Sporting Fashion: Outdoor Girls 1800 to 1960” will be on view through May 7, 2023.

Lots of companion programming

Related programs for the exhibit include:

  • Sporting Fashion College Night at the Figge, Thursday, Feb. 16, 5-8 p.m.., exclusively for the students, faculty, and staff of Institutional Members.
  • Sporting Fashion “Ice Skating” Night, Friday, Feb. 17, 5-7 p.m., Free for members | $10 non-members Join us for cool treats and hot drinks before a Sporting Fashion tour.
  • FREE Family Day Featuring Sporting Fashion Sunday, Feb. 26
  • FREE Senior Day Featuring Sporting Fashion Sunday, March 2
  • Sporting Fashion Trivia Night, Friday, March 3, 5-8 p.m., Gather your friends and bring your
    competitive spirit to a Sporting Fashion themed Trivia Night. Table (team of 8) Member $80/Non-Member $120; Individual Member $15/Non-Member $20
  • Sporting Fashion Tours Sundays at 1 p.m. – March 12, 26, & April 3, Saturdays at 10:30 a.m. – March 18, April 15, 29
  • Art Buffet Thursday, March 23, April 6, 13, 27, and May 4, 5-6:30 p.m.
  • Quad City Symphony Orchestra Women in Music, Thursday, March 23, 5-8 p.m. In honor of Sporting Fashion, the QCSO will present the concert, Up Close with the Figge: Women in Music.
  • Sporting Fashion “March Madness” Night, Friday, March 31, 5-7 p.m., Free for members | $10 non-members. Join us for courtside snacks and drinks prior to a tour of Sporting Fashion.
  • Ballet Quad Cities Performance Thursday, April 13, 5-8 p.m., Ballet Quad Cities will perform
    choreography inspired by Sporting Fashion that explores art and dance.
  • Curator Talk: Kevin Jones and Christina M. Johnson, Thursday, April 20, 5-8 p.m., Join Sporting Fashion curators as they discuss the exhibition and history of women’s sportswear.
  • Sporting Fashion “Yacht and Sailing” Night, Friday, April 21, 5-7 p.m., Free for members | $10 non-members, Join us in the Figge Café for elegant champagne and charcuterie prior to a docent-led tour of Sporting Fashion.
  • University of Iowa Dancers in Company, Thursday, April 27, 5-8 p.m
  • Fashion Show Thursday, May 4, 5-8 p.m., Celebrate creativity and self-expression with a community fashion show inspired by Sporting Fashion.
  • The cArt!, Sundays, Feb. 26, March 19, April 2, April 30, 1-3 p.m., Find the art cart in selected galleries for in-depth conversations.

To see a slideshow of exhibit excerpts, click below: