The History of Women's Fashions on Display at the Met
The 18-inch waisted-women in the first gallery of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City's stunning new show, American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity , are the great-grandmothers of the sexy screen sirens in the last. On view through August 15, this Costume Institute exhibition presents high-end women's fashions from the 1890s to the 1940s. Visitors walk through darkened circular galleries that reflect the decor and style of a feminine archetype from a particular era. Each gallery has a label starting with the "heiress" era when high fashion meant French haute couture.
Next comes bathing costumes, riding outfits, and biking clothes that epitomized the turn-of-the-century Gibson Girls.
By far the most striking gallery is the hand-painted rendering of Louis Comfort Tiffany's Manhattan studio, the backdrop for the "Bohemian" era costumes of the early 1900s.
Rare archival film footage dominates the fashions in the World War I era gallery.
When you get to the flapper years, the clothes look more familiar. Here chemise dresses are showcased against a striking cityscape inspired by the paintings of Tamara de Lempicka.
Take your time and watch all the film clips of Rita Hayworth, Katharine Hepburn, Norma Shearer, Lena Horne, and Greta Garbo in the "Screen Sirens" gallery. At a recent showing, visitors gasped at the film stars' second-skin bias-cut gowns. It seemed as if everyone forgot or never knew how beautiful, elegant, and sophisticated those celebs were. As one woman remarked: "They don't come like that anymore."