Sunday, June 27, 2010

American Woman, Baby Let Me Be: The MET's Costume Institute Exhibition Part One

On a cloudy afternoon there is nothing better than taking a stroll through the museum. Lucky for me, the MET is currently hosting its exhibit, American Fashion: Fashioning a National Identity. Not only does the exhibit feature gorgeous fashions by designers from the grandfather of haute couture, Charles Worth to Coco Chanel but it is also narrated by the quintessential New York City gal, Sarah Jessica Parker. The beautiful exhibit takes a historical look at American history through the eyes of fashion gowns through the heiress of the 1890s to the Old Hollywood glamour of the 1940's.

At first you enter a room that is straight from the 1890's celebrating the heiress. With walls covered with damask wall paper and music reminiscent of an elegant ball, the scene was set with several bustle-style gowns glimmering with satin and embroidery. During this time period, women of an older age wore dark gowns and younger women wore lighter colours. The most stunning gown was a black sequin floor length gown with a corseted bodice and full sleeves. Elegant and glamorouous. Another favourite was a soft pink silk gown with an embellised feather detail accented with beautiful fans and delicate lace. As always, the MET recreated this time periodd perfectly and I felt as if I were in this time period myself.
Next up we had the Gibson Girl of the 1900's, an animated character created by illustrator Charles Dana Gisbon that represented the ideal American girl who was athletic, active and fun, always wearing a chignon. This part of the exhibit featured outfits that women wore when playing sports and it was quite different than what we see today. No spandex shorts and sports bras for these Gibson Girls! A typical outfit for swimming was not a cutout metallic bathing suit but a navy sailor-inspired dress! With white trim and nautical motif, this outfit must have made swimming difficult for these ladies.

The Gibson Girl was not the only woman that dominated the early 1900's, there was also the Bohemia. A woman who celebrated her intellect and engaged herself in the arts. Instead of celebrating her body she wore clothes that distracted from it with gold chiffon wraps and loose harem-style pants. My favourite piece was a blood-red silk jumper that was inspired by dhopis worn by men in India. Accented by a lace vest, this look is reminiscent of the bohemian woman of today.

Following this. were the woman warriors who took part in the war effort and when they were at home they fought for a woman's right to vote. Always accompanied by their gold and yellow sashes these women wore elongated coats and full skirts. The most fashionable outfit would have to be a beige suit with a button detail reminiscent of a frog detail that is normally found on a mandarin coat.

       On to the roaring twenties! These women were liberated, independent and free spirited. They drank, smoke and did the Charleston all while wearing casual and comfortable clothes. During the day, they wore modest clothing with my favourite being a red cloche hat, beige sweater with red vertical stripes and matching bow on top with a pleated beige skirt coming just past the knee for the bottom. At night it was all glitz and glamour! Exquisite sequin details and shapeless dresses was the style du jour. A standout was a blush dress with chiffon bodice and embellished skirt with cutouts reminiscent of a mermaid's fin.

      The exhibit ended with a picture into Old Hollywood, the most glamorous decade of all. Floor length gowns filled the dimly lit room with scenes featuring old films starring screen goddess, Jean Harlow wearing a fabulous fur trimmed chiffon robe playing in the background. The most coveted designs had to be a halter dress by Charles Worth with cascading silk layers printed with a brown and beige abstract print. A very sexy number was a black long sleeved gown with cutout detail in the back with a long skirt and embellished hem. Subtle and sexy all in one!

      Finally the event concluded with a montage dedicated to all the strong, influential women throughout American history from famous dancer, Josephine Baker to Diane Von Furstenberg to Tina Fey. At the end of the event, not only was I inspired by the beautiful fashions but I also felt empowered for being a woman. The exhibit beautifully celebrated influential fashion and the women that wore it in a way that made you feel like saying, "I am woman hear me roar!" (in a fashionable ensemble of course.)


*All images of the gowns have been taken from
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