The Museum at FIT recently opened Ballerina: Fashion’s Modern Muse on February 11 (open until April 18, 2020), curated by Patricia Mears, and features a variety of stunning ballet and ballet-inspired ensembles. The highlights in this post will focus on the items on view that fall within 1880-1930.
Dance has always been a wonderful way to evoke emotional and expression through movement. Those movements, of course, accentuated by the costumes the ballerinas wore. While ballet is seen as one of the ultimate feminine art forms, the physique and training requires a toughness that parallels the athleticism of any professional athlete along with a theatrical component. Costume can set the mood of the scene and create an allure. The Museum notes, “So profound was ballet’s impact that it asserted influence on many fields of creativity, one of the most important being fashion.” For many years, ballerinas’ costumes reflected current fashion, with beautiful feminine imagery, but had little impact on other realms of creativity.
This post will highlight objects from the exhibit up until the 1930s. The Museum notes that the 1930s were the era of the turning point in which “balletomania” took over, largely due to the influx of Russian dancers on the stage, and ballet became an influence for couturiers rather than just reflecting current styles (but acknowledging the decline of the ballerina as muse beginning in the 1980s).
If you have a chance to see this exhibit before it closes on Jan. 5 — make your way to the Bard Graduate Gallery! The interplay and tension of war and fashion for French women and the overarching concepts are phenomenal! The exhibit opened on Sept. 5 and was curated by Maude Bass-Krueger and Sophie Kurkdjian. This review will highlight some of the sections and objects on view.
The exhibit begs the question in its opening text:
“What happened during the four years of the war [1914-1918] to create such a vivid shift in fashion, and what impact did this shift have on French women?”
Little Ladies proved to be a hidden gem (and also more closely in line with the FFF timeline). Although most of the pieces date around the 1870s, many of the ideals and pieces themselves would have still been relevant and used in the 1880s, the beginning of the FFF area of study, though some of the silhouettes would have changed.
The exhibit makes the point that these dolls were instructional in the sense that they provided young girls with what to expect in marriage and coming years. Beautifully ornate and detailed, the dolls provided a counterpart to written materials on how a lady should act, what she should wear during very specific times of day (down to the handkerchief placed in her pocket and the bustle under her skirt), and the realms in which she should primarily occupy herself.
The Museum at FIT’s latest history gallery exhibit focuses on unfinished and “imperfect” works of fashion in Fashion Unraveled. This exhibit opened May 25, 2018 and will be open until November 17, 2018.
In this post I highlight some pieces that relate to the Femme Fashion Forward (1880-1930) timeline. The exhibit was broken down into 5 main themes: Mended and Altered, Unfinished, Repurposed, Behind the Seams, and Distressed and Deconstructed. I’ve chosen pieces found in each of these themes, except for Distressed and Deconstructed because most of those objects were from a later date. The exhibit challenges the idea that clothing that has been altered or changed in some way decreases in value, and argues, in many cases, this will add a historic importance to a museum’s collection and can be embraced by modern designers. This blog post does not focus on more recent interpretations of this idea, so you’ll have to head to the Museum to see those particular examples, but I think you’ll enjoy the incredible fashion pieces I’ve selected below from the 1890s and 1920s!
Mended and Altered
These stockings have been darned as the toes and heels became worn, and this was a common practice to preserve the life of such a well worn, luxury item. The Museum notes, however, that this occurred less frequently as the 20th century progressed because ready-made stockings became more available and were inexpensive enough to be treated as a disposable piece of clothing. Soon stockings would be made of a cheaper imitation silk, like rayon and nylon.
Socks and stockings have continued to be viewed as disposable today to the point where it would be highly unusual for someone to darn the holes in the toes of their socks instead of throwing them away. Mending in general is much less common in 2018. Not just for socks, but if a T-shirt or some other clothing item has a hole, many times we’ll toss it before considering repairing the piece ourselves. Some food for thought on how this shift in mind set has changed throughout the 20th century!
As you may have seen from my recent social media photos, I have been involved with this project for the Meadowlands Museum as a volunteer Curator and spoke last week at the Museum. This project was like a dream come true in terms of being able to curate my own exhibit on fashion history! What surprised me the most was that the more I (and the wonderful exhibition team) dug into the textile industry of this region, the more there was to find. And not just in bits and pieces — more like an avalanche of information!
Me at the Museum for the Curatorial Talk on 6.2.2018. Behind me you can see a silk gown from 1904 (first made in 1888) and a silk plaid jacket from the late 19th century.