The American Woman at the Met

May 4, 2010

I have been greatly anticipating a new exhibit at the Met, which opens tomorrow (May 5): American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity. Imagine my extreme enthusiasm when I learned that the head curator is a fellow Smithie! As described in Victoriana magazine: “The exhibition, on view from May 5 through August 15, 2010, will explore developing perceptions of the modern American woman from the 1890s to the 1940s, 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.”

Needless to say, I plan to make a weekend of my visit to this exhibit. For those of you that can’t be there, here are some of my favorite pieces from the as-yet-unseen collection (all photos are copyright Met Costume Institute):

From Charles James, master of draping, circa 1935-1940:



Not the most wearable garment, since I imagine it weighs quite a bit, but the draping is gorgeous. It’s silk and it isn’t a knit, if that excites you (it excited me).

The following pieces are from Madeleine Vionnet, who was known for what the Met calls “mathematically precise” technical skills and design simplicity:

Vionnet circa 1937


The black dress elicits an emotional response from me. The details are so beautiful and executed perfectly–look at the fluidity from the bust downward. Gorgeous.

Ordinarily, I would hesitate to include such an item (I am vegetarian, after all), but the design and craftmanship here are fantastic:

For those of you who notice such things, when the Met uses a true dress form (not a mannequin for presentation purposes), they use Wolf. It really is the fairest of them all <sigh>.

This Charles James creation lies a bit outside of the range the Met is covering and, fortunately, within the range of my own interests:

Beautiful pleating and draping again, no? I think the overall effect would be significantly enhanced if the dress fit the mannequin better…the gap in the bust and armscye distracts me (am I crazy?).

I hope anyone within the vicinity of NYC will see fit (pun intended) to visit this exhibit…maybe you’ll run into me there! I’ll be the one weeping in front of the cycling costume.

Note: does any other WordPress blogger know why my photos suddenly have blue frames?


One Response to “The American Woman at the Met”

  1. Tasia Says:

    Gorgeous, thanks for sharing! Let us know how it is, when you see the exhibit for real!
    I don’t know where the borders came from but you can get rid of them by opening the image editing window, then going to the advanced settings tab and where it says border, changing whatever’s in that field to ‘0’ or deleting it. I’m definitely not a tech expert but that’s my best explanation, hope it helps!

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