"She wears short skirts, I wear T-shirts..."
Well, that was then. This is now.
There's nary a T-shirt to be found in "Taylor Swift: Speak Now—Treasures from the World Tour," now on display at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. You will come across some short skirts, however, in the exhibit, which opened to the public this week. Also, a hillbilly dress, some Shakespearian outfits, some '60s girl-group outfits, and, yes, even a wedding "gown shaped like a pastry," as described in the title song of the Speak Now album.
Taylor's flying balcony, on displayThe 11 stations along the way at the Hall of Fame represent about the number of costume changes that occurred during Swift's spectacular 2011 world tour. Signs and photos helpfully point out which outfits correlated with which crucial song in the set list. A few props are thrown in, too, from a goat to the floating balcony in which Taylor soared over the audience at the close of each night's show. (Sadly, there is neither the technology nor the liability insurance in place to allow visitors to fly through the Hall of Fame's rotunda.)
The Swift installation was kind of a last-minute idea, by some accounts, that came up as Swift was offering the museum an unprecedented $4 million donation recently. The costumes are spaced out along the hall's first and second floors, behind glass, in areas that usually don't hold any pieces at all. You can even see some of the museum's filing cabinets behind the costumes, if you look carefully. This speaks to how little space the museum has to present its offerings; fewer than 10 percent of their holdings are currently on display. But this is a problem that will be rectified by the huge additional wing that Swift's donation is going toward. When it's finished, you can expect to see a lot of Swift's memorabilia as permanent installations.
A beaded "Back to December"Having the costumes spaced out throughout the exhibit areas does pre-empt one problem though: bunching. A publicity and billboard campaign about the Swift exhibit is expected to draw much younger visitors than the Hall of Fame typically draws. And while the museum has never faced the problem of a logjam around, say, the Merle Travis or Marty Stuart sections, they might if the Swift stuff were all in one wing.
(These artifacts, by the way, are all from Swift's last tour. So there's no overlap with the traveling mini-museum that Swift brought along with her on that tour, which featured costumes from previous tours and awards-show appearances, a display only the random fans and special guests lucky enough to be invited back to the nightly "T Room" got to see.)
Here's a preview of some of what you'll see if you visit the Hall of Fame this summer, along with excerpts from the explanatory notes Swift provided for the exhibit's souvenir program:
"The Story of Us"* The "Story of Us"/"Mine" dress (designed by Robert Cavalli). All that glitters is pretty darned gold in this show-opening outfit. In the program notes, Swift reminds fans of her tourmates' pop-up entrances during the number: "We used toaster elevators to pop the dancers up into the air during this song. I wanted the characters to fly into the air and appear onstage during different verses of the song to act out the different conflicts and arguments that take place during a breakup." You also get a good gander at her sparking-red electric guitar... and the museum's filing system!
"Better Than Revenge"* The "Better Than Revenge" dress (designed by Jenny Packham). That rocking highlight of her show was all about jealousy—and what better way to make an ex and the ex's new love feel envious than a little red dress? "'Now go stand in the corner and think about what you did'—I always loved the crowd's reaction to the beginning of this song," Swift writes.
"Mean"* The "Mean"/"Our Song" outfits (designed by Vintage Reproduction). Swift and her band went decidedly down-market for the rural-looking and -sounding section of the show. Besides the Depression-era duds, the display also includes a ganjo, wheelbarrow, moonshine jug, and a not-very-animate goat named Chip. "I created elements during the show that remind me of different time periods," Swift said. "I wanted this to take me back to the Great Depression when musicians would sit around on a front porch jamming to give them hope."
"Enchanted"* The "Enchanted" costumes (designed by Reem Acra). Today—and every day—was a fairy tale, in this section of the show. "I wanted some of my dancers to be able to showcase their ballet abilities," she explains in the program notes.
"Speak Now"* The "Speak Now" wedding party finery (designed by Vintage Reproduction). It's a fine line between bridesmaids' dresses and old-school girl-group outfits, anyway, isn't it? This production number erased it. "The church scene was the most elaborate scene in the show," Swift explains. "We tried to make i seem like a real wedding ceremony with pews, a minister, and a bridezilla." And a gown so pastry-like, you could break the glass to eat it.
"Haunted"* The "Haunted" dress (designed by Susan Hilferty). Nothing says "goth" like a red sexy dress that looks like it might've been chewed on by rats. You can also relive the moments in which she banged a gong, thanks to program notes that point out how the hanging bells in that production number had to be large enough to hide aerialists, who dropped down halfway through.
"Love Story" extras' costumes* The "Love Story" dress (designed by Valentino) and costumes and flying buttress. The biggest prop of all is suspended in a three-story space at the end of the tour, right before visitors enter the room devoted to Hall of Fame members (someday, many years from now, sure to include Swift herself). "The year before, on Fearless, we had a big castle on stage. So for this tour I wanted to go to the audience. So we designed a Juliet balcony that would fly over the audience and get us as close to the fans as possible in the balcony seats."
When balconies collide! A memory to be relived in downtown Nashville, now through Nov. 4.