Saturday, April 30, 2011

Fashion Institute of Technology Museum: 7th Ave & 27th St

If you happen to be in the neighborhood (close to flower market, Martha Stewart studios, and the fashion district), you might take 30 minutes to stop by the Fashion Institute of Technology Museum (FIT Museum) and check out their free exhibits on fashion (see FIT Museum Info for hours).  It is not a large museum (4 small connected rooms) and they don't allow photography (for conservation reasons), but it shows a nice retrospective of fashion through the ages.

Currently, their exhibit, called "His and Hers," tracks men's and women's clothing starting from the 1750s through to the present.  In the 1750s, both men and women (at least in the courts) were ornately dressed (men wore high heels too).  Then in the 1800s women remained decked out like dolls but the menswear went to more serious dark suits.  In the early 1900s, Edwardian women wore large hats and tightened their corsets to "unbreathable" ridiculousness.

Then the next notable fashions went to the 1920s with dresses made for flat-chested skinny women.  There was also the zoot suit of the 30s and 40s, but these were seen as "unpatriotic" during the war with their extra-ordinarily lavish use of fabric (wide shoulders, cuffed wide, high-waisted pants, etc.). Post war 1950s' very feminine ladies dresses with aprons and neck-kerchiefs was a reaction to bring women back into the home after working for the war effort.  Then came the Nehru jackets of the 60s (the museum has a Mr. Fish suit on display)--remember Mick Jagger wearing these?  The era of the mini-skirt is represented by a scandalous (yet restrained for her in all black) Betsy Johnson  backless dress and a "Tuxedo" dress by Roberta Di Camerino (2001-2002 Anna Sui copied these in her tompe l'oeil dresses and accessories--here I had thought Anna Sui was coming up with a new design!). Concurrently designers like YSL were advocating for womens' pants suits. 

Then there are numerous modern/current fashions (lots of Jean Paul Gaultier -- see laser-cut vinyl dress at above right).  Most on display seem to make men's clothes more feminine (with men's over skirts) and women's clothes more masculine (with broad shoulders and military inspired boots and jackets).  Whatever your tastes, you're bound to see something you like and something you think is new or different--but basically it seems to me all fashion is derivative from prior fashions.  Nothing wrong with that, just don't be fooled.

Maybe it's because of my affinity for movies and television, but while I was touring the museum I kept hearkening back to particular programs that for some reason stuck in my mind for their fashions.  Of course there was "Gone with the Wind" and Scarlett's plea to Mammy to tighten her corset until it reached 16", Julie Andrews staring in "Thoroughly Modern Millie" for the flapper dresses, and "Happy Days" and "American Graffiti" for the 1950s. I was pleasantly surprised that I must not have been alone in making the association, as the museum had on exhibit an outfit worn by Don Johnson in "Miami Vice" (see left).  Ha!  Great (or sick) minds...?

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