Of course, the purpose of this exhibition is to demonstrate the American woman through the ages through her garments and how they related to how women were expected to present themselves. Starting with the Heiress from the late 1800′s where women were expected to adhere to social rules of the ‘conventional lady’ and adorn themselves with rich fabrics, bustles, lace, gems and intricate layering. This entire scene was just lovely with the varied gowns to the sets to the elegant music playing above us. I almost felt as if the dresses would start swishing and swooping along the floor dancing with the sounds that surrounded us. Then on to later incarnations of women’s wear such as the Gibson Girl, the Bohemian, the Suffragist, the Flapper and the Screen Siren.
And then it ends.
The exhibition, though accompanied with beautiful sets, music and films just ends far too soon
notably omitting the major turning events in woman’s clothing in the 50′s, 60′s and the 80′s. How can we thoroughly discuss the work of women and fashion without discussing the Mod movement? The Good Girl movement of poodle skirts and peddle pushers? The hippie and sexual freedom? The 80′s Power Suit?! It seemed as those after the Screen Siren, the Met and Brooklyn Museum (a contributor to the exhibition) felt as though modern culture just wasn’t that important in the fashion evolution of women. But how on earth can we ‘fashion a national identity’ through clothing and not discuss the cycles of sexual freedom, repression and acceptance from the 50′s-80′s?
If anything, discussing the various later movements of clothing would open a dialogue of cyclical trends: Screen Siren draping used today in gowns, flapper column dresses worn as street-wear shift dresses today, and fringe moving from one generation to the next and even today. But alas…nothing.
Worst still is notable omissions of important designers through the ages, the women that wore the clothes and fashion icons. Of course, coming to the end of the exhibition we walk into a room blasting ‘American Woman’ from Lenny Kravitz…which was…something. And then a floor to ceiling screen showing images of iconic women through the ages. Of course something seems off – probably because we jumped from the 1930′s to a blasting song written in the early 2000′s – but I found myself wondering “where the hell was Jackie O? The woman who turned fashion into something accessible to the American working woman?”, “Where the hell was Madonna? The icon that took us through the fashion ages through her life’s work?”, “Where the hell was Donna Karen? The woman who begun designing for the professional, fashionable New York woman?”, “Where the hell was Carolina Herrera?! The woman to took the crisp mens-wear button down shirt and make it chic, elegant and classic when mixed with feminine lines, and draping?!”.
In the end, the show starts out exciting, even breathtaking! But begins to feel rushed and ends far too early to truly encapsulate the real American history of women through fashion. We may never know why so many important era’s were neglected in this exhibition, but I can’t help but feel like without them, the exhibit falls very short.
As always I encourage you to explore the exhibition yourself and come to your own conclusions. Art is sure to elicit varied opinions – go forth and develop your own.