BK Museum Costume Exhibit - 2010

Monday, September 13, 2010

There is much more to fashion than simply aesthetic. Just as paintings from centuries past provide valuable information about the era from which they arose, so too does the history of fashion and costuming. With this in mind, The Devenish Group (consisting of many young professionals), led by Louise Devenish, recently visited the Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition, American High Style: Fashioning a National Collection to observe this concept within the museum’s holdings. The group first examined portraits of women in history, paying particular attention to the relationship between dress and symbolism. With an informed view, the group then viewed the museum’s costume collection.

The paintings on display provided background information that allowed the garments in the costume collection to be understood in symbolic and social contexts rather than to be perceived as solely decorative. Portraits created by notable artists such as William Williams, William Merit Chase, John Singleton Copley and Rembrandt Peale, to name just a few, used costume and iconography to express their sitter’s wealth and valued personal qualities or, rather, the wealth and qualities that the sitter wanted others to think they possessed.

The early fashion designers highlighted in American High Style continued this tradition of self-propaganda for their clients by creating pieces that mirrored the attitudes of women and the social climate of their times. Themes presented in the collection include chastity and sexuality, leisure and sport, and obedience and independence. The exhibition boasted historically significant costume by American designers such as Bonnie Cashin, Elizabeth Hawes, Norman Norell and the European designers from whom they drew much influence, namely, Charles Frederick Worth, Elsa Schiaparelli, Jeanne Paquin, Madeleine Vionnet and Christian Dior. The groups experience at the Brooklyn Museum was educational, insightful and left everyone enlightened and with the ability to recognize fashion not only as well crafted works of art, but also as documents of their time.


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