American Women: Fashioning a National Identity

The Met right now has a special exhibition from the Costume Institute and the Brooklyn Museum called “American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity,” which of COURSE I’m conceptually, ecstatically losing my shit over. Let’s just quote their press release for moment:

"It will explore developing perceptions of the modern American woman from 1890 to 1940 and how they have affected the way American women are seen today. Focusing on archetypes of American femininity through dress, the exhibition will reveal how the American woman initiated style revolutions that mirrored her social, political, and sexual emancipation. "

Oh, HELL YES. Though that description is (of course) a little exaggeratedly positive and optimistic, pretty much anything involving old dresses and phrases like “archetypes of American femininity” is going to get me going. Here’s their lil’ video of the exhibit:

While I haven’t had the chance to make it uptown to see it yet, I hiked out to the Brooklyn Museum (where the Met borrowed the dresses from) with my mother today and got to check out an extension of the exhibit - ”American High Style" - a collection of 85 or so pieces meant to re-introduce the BK Museum’s couture and costume collection after years in storage.  While it’s a little heavy, as expected, on the couture end of things (too many evening gowns! not enough day dresses! not everyone was rich and partying, goddamnit!) it was beautiful and well worth the trip.

Pix after the jump — excuse the sub-par quality. I WAS BEING STEALTHY with a point’n’shoot.

Seed packet day dress from the ‘quirky’ (insane?) Elsa Schiaparelli.  Apparently, as a child, she ate seeds hoping that flowers would grow from her face. Which didn’t work out so well, but did inspire this dress.  Also included: her hat made to give the illusion of birds dive-bombing into the wearer’s skull.  (Take that, Margiela.)

VINTAGE TINY DOG CLOTHES OMG. Most obnoxious or most adorable thing to ever be put in a museum? 

Late 19th century, or the beginning of the time period examined by the exhibit at the Met. Dear readers who know more about history and/or fashion history than me: How exactly did one sit in a bustle, especially if in a small chair? My mother and I spent a good ten minutes trying to figure this out.  I suppose it’s just about as easy as breathing in a corset that knocks your waist down to 18 inches and deforms a few ribs, or walking on the street in that many petticoats….

And 50 or so years later, 1940’s YSL and Chanel, so the end of our timeline. A bit different in terms of mobility from the previous gowns. So there y’all go, exceptionally obvious example of how fashion can be used as one way of observing the changes in women’s social roles over a fifty-year period. Also: OMG HOW CUTE IS THAT YSL TRAPEZE DRESS WITH THE INTERIOR BELT DYING WANT NOW

I swear I saw these in the window at Payless last week, but apparently they’re from the 1930’s.

Sari fabric (anyone know the proper name for this print/style)? Tiger print? Colonialism much? Yikes.

Teeny back room with working clothes and uniforms from the 30s or so, which I wish they had more of since I think it’s just as interesting and telling as all that Givenchy and Halston and Charles James… alas. Just one poor waitress and gas station attendant shoved away in a closet.