Friday, July 10, 2009

Designs On Society: Fashion & Politics


Left: Design by Thakoon Center: Design by Jason Wu; Right: Jean-Charles de Castelbajac’s sequin mini-dress, which pays homage to Barack Obama

All photos: Caroline Erb

'Fashion & Politics', the current exhibition at the Museum at FIT, explores the relationship between fashion and the ever-changing political and social climates since the nineteenth century. The more than one hundred costumes, textiles, and accessories on display reflect not only overt political themes, like the white cotton “Ike” print dress, circa 1956, but also purely cultural movements, exemplified by the liberating “Aesthetic” dress silhouettes of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.



Since the exhibition is arranged chronologically, it provides a visual timeline of the social and political development of the first half of the twentieth-century. Rising hemlines and increasingly functional women’s garments culminate in two sharply contrasting WWII looks: a denim “Rosie the Riveter” factory jumpsuit and a sleek W.A.V.E.S. uniform designed by American couturier, Mainbocher, for the U.S. Navy.


Silk faille cocktail dress

The postwar 50’s saw a return to more conservative women’s fashions due to the rise of suburbia and the popular belief that women should abandon their wartime independence in favor of more domestic roles. The silk faille Saks Fifth Avenue Cocktail Dress, circa 1953, was perfect for chic at-home entertaining.

Of course, the 1950’s also witnessed the rise of the teenager as a cultural force and as the second half of the twentieth century unfolds, fashion becomes increasingly explicit, addressing such issues as communism and environmentalism. The most recent pieces in the exhibit reflect the current obsession with politics and social change, including Jean-Charles de Castelbajac’s sequin mini-dress, which pays homage to the designer’s fascination with Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign.

Fashion & Politics will be on display in the Fashion and Textile History Gallery at The Museum at FIT until November 7, 2009.

-Rhonda Erb

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