J. C. Leyendecker (American, 1874-1951), Vacation, (Cover for Collier’s magazine), 1907, Oil on canvas, Courtesy Archives of American Illustrators GalleryTM, NYC, © 2010 by American Illustrators GalleryTM, NYC, www.AmericanIllustrators. com, and National Museum of American, IllustrationTM, Newport RI.

Fashion and the Evolving Identity of the American Woman, 1890-1940

Eugene Robert Richee (American, 1895-1972), Louise Brooks, ca. 1928, Courtesy of John Kobal Foundation / Getty Images.

Anna May Wong in Limehouse Blues (directed by Alexander Hall), 1934 Costume by Travis Banton (American, 1894-1958), Courtesy of John Kobal Foundation / Getty Images.

Martin Munkacsi (Hungarian, 1898-1963), Lucile Brokaw on the Long Island Beach, 1933, Courtesy of Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.

Giovanni Boldini (Italian, Ferrarese, 1845-1931), Consuelo Vanderbilt (1876-1964), Duchess of Marlborough, and Her Son, Lord Ivor Spencer-Churchill (1898-1956), 1906, Oil on canvas, 221.6 x 170.2 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Consuelo Vanderbilt Balsan, 1946, (47.71).


Metropolitan Museum of Art
1000 Fifth Avenue
at 82nd Street
New York

Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Exhibition Hall
American Woman:
Fashioning a National Identity

May 5-August 15, 2010

The exhibition explores developing perceptions of the modern American woman from 1890 to 1940, and how they have affected the way American women are seen today. Focusing on archetypes of American femininity through dress, the exhibition reveals how the American woman initiated style revolutions that mirrored her social, political, and sexual emancipation.  "Gibson Girls" and "Screen Sirens" established the fundamental characteristics of American style — a theme that is explored in a video installation in the final gallery.

American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity, is the first Costume Institute exhibition drawn from the newly established Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at the Met. 

"The ideal of the American woman evolved from a dependence on European, Old World ideas of elegance into an independent New World sensibility that reflected freedoms still associated with American women today," said Andrew Bolton, Curator of The Costume Institute.  "The show will look at fashion's role in defining how American women have been represented historically, and how fashion costumes women into archetypes that still persist in varying degrees of relevance."

The exhibition features approximately 80 examples of haute couture and high fashion primarily from the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which was transferred to the Met from the Brooklyn Museum in January 2009.  Many of the pieces have not been seen by the public in more than 30 years.

Visitors walk through time as they enter circular galleries that reflect the milieu of each feminine archetype.   Period clothing is brought to life with hand-painted panoramas animated by music, video, and lighting.  The first gallery evokes the ballroom of the Heiress (1890s), filled with ball gowns by Charles Frederick Worth. Scenes of the great outdoors showcase the athleticism and physical independence of the Gibson Girl (1890s) as characterized by bathing costumes, riding ensembles, and cycling suits.

An artistic rendering of Louis Comfort Tiffany's studio in New York provides the backdrop for the Bohemian (early 1900s), an archetype represented by Rita Lydig and featuring her signature silk pantaloons by Callot Soeurs.  The Suffragist and Patriot (1910s) have backdrops of archival film footage revealing the gradual social and physical emancipation of women around the time of World War I.

Flappers (1920s) is evoked through chemise dresses for day by Patou, and heavily beaded evening styles by Lanvin and Molyneux are shown against a mural of New York City inspired by the paintings of Tamara de Lempicka.  Cinematic representations of the "Screen Siren" are presented in a gallery resembling a 1930s cinema, and showcase body-cleaving, second-skin bias-cut gowns, including a dress designed by Travis Banton for Anna May Wong in the film Limehouse Blues (1934).  In the final gallery, a video installation explores how today's ideal of American style evolved via each of the exhibition's archetypes.

Designers in the exhibition include Travis Banton, Gabrielle Chanel, Callot Soeurs, Madame Eta, Elizabeth Hawes, Madame Grès, Charles James, Jeanne Lanvin, Liberty & Company, Edward Molyneux, Paul Poiret, Elsa Schiaparelli, Jessie Franklin Turner, Valentina, Madeleine Vionnet, Weeks, Charles Frederick Worth, and Jean-Philippe Worth, among others.

A simultaneous exhibition of masterworks from the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection is presented at the Brooklyn Museum May 7-August 1, 2010. American High Style: Fashioning a National Collection looks at 19th- and 20th- century masterworks by designers including Charles Frederick Worth, Jeanne Lanvin, Jeanne Paquin, Elsa Schiaparelli, Charles James, and Norman Norell  collected by prominent women including Dominique de Menil, Millicent Rogers, and Lauren Bacall.  Many of these pieces have never been previously exhibited.  This exhibition is organized by Jan Glier Reeder, Consulting Curator of the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Metropolitan Museum exhibition is organized by Andrew Bolton, Curator, with the support of Harold Koda, Curator in Charge, both of the Met's Costume Institute.  Nathan Crowley, a production designer of films including The Prestige, The Dark Knight, and Public Enemies serves as the exhibition's creative consultant, as he did for the 2008 exhibition Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy.

A book, High Style: Masterworks from the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection by Jan Glier Reeder, accompanies the exhibition.  It is be published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press.

Edward Steichen (American, born Luxembourg, 1879-1973), Cyclamen – Mrs. Philip Lydig, ca. 1905, Direct carbon print, 12-3/8 x 8-1/2", The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Alfred Stieglitz Collection, 1933 (33.43.9).

John Singer Sargent (American, 1856-1925), Portrait of Nancy Astor, 1908-1909, Courtesy of National Trust / Art Resource, NY.

Paul Stahr (American, 1883-1953), Soldierettes, (Cover of Life Magazine), 1919, Oil on canvas, Collection of the Society of Illustrators, Museum of American Illustration, Gift of, Lowell M. Schulman, 1984 (084.023).