American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity

American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity
Metropolitan Museum: Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Exhibition Hall, second floor
May 5-August 15, 2010


The spring 2010 exhibition organized by The Costume Institute of The Metropolitan Museum of Art will be American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity, the first drawn exclusively from the newly established Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at the Met. The exhibition, on view from May 5 through August 15, 2010 (preceded on May 3 by The Costume Institute Gala Benefit), will explore 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 will reveal how the American woman initiated style revolutions that mirrored her social, political, and sexual emancipation. “Gibson
Girls” and “Screen Sirens” laid the foundation for today’s American woman – a theme that will be explored in a video installation.

The exhibition is made possible by Gap.
Additional support is provided by Condé Nast.

To celebrate the opening of the exhibition, the Museum’s Costume Institute Gala Benefit will take place on Monday, May 3, 2010. The evening’s Co-Chairs will be Oprah Winfrey; Patrick Robinson, designer for Gap; and Anna Wintour, Editor-in-Chief of Vogue. This fundraising event is The Costume Institute’s main source of annual funding for exhibitions, operations, and capital improvements.

“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.”

Exhibition Overview
The exhibition will feature approximately 75 examples of haute couture and high fashion 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 will walk through time as they enter circular galleries that reflect the milieu of each feminine archetype. Period clothing will be brought to life with panoramas animated by music, video, and lighting. The first gallery will evoke the ballroom of the “Heiress” (1890s), filled with ball gowns by Charles Frederick Worth. Scenes of the great outdoors will showcase the athleticism and physical independence of the “Gibson Girl” (1890s) as characterized by bathing costumes, riding ensembles, and cycling suits.
Picture galleries in connecting corridors will put faces to the archetypes and demonstrate how the gradual emancipation of the American woman was reflected in the media of the day. The “Heiress,” embodied by Consuelo Vanderbilt and others, will be seen in oil paintings; the “Gibson Girl” in fashion illustrations; the
art-collecting “Bohemian” (early 1900s) in photographs of Rita Lydig; and the “Suffragist” (1910s) in poster art showing Alice Paul, Lucy Burns, and others.

Photographs of “Flappers” (1920s) such as Clara Bow and Louise Brooks will precede galleries showing beaded chemise dresses by Lanvin and Molyneux, among others. Filmic representations of the “Screen Siren” (1930s) will herald a nightclub scene that will include body-cleaving, second-skin bias-cut gowns, including the Siren dress designed by Charles James and worn by Gypsy Rose Lee. In the final gallery, a video installation will demonstrate the significance of contemporary archetypes and the media’s role in sustaining them despite the multi-dimensionality of the modern American woman.

Designers in the exhibition will 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 will be presented at the Brooklyn Museum from May 7 – August 1, 2010. American Style: Fashioning a National Collection will take a look at historic designs of the 19th and 20th century by designers including Charles James, Norman Norell, Jeanne Paquin, and Elsa Schiaparelli collected by prominent women including Dominique de Menil, Millicent Rogers, and Lauren Bacall.

Many of the objects have never been previously exhibited. This exhibition will be organized by Jan Glier Reeder, Consulting Curator of the Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Credits 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 will serve as the exhibition’s creative
consultant, as he did for the 2008 exhibition Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy.

The design for the 2010 Costume Institute Gala Benefit will be created by Nathan Crowley with Raul Avila.
Online Feature and Publication The Metropolitan Museum’s website ( will feature information
about the exhibition.

A book, High Style: Masterworks from The Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection by Jan Glier Reeder, will accompany both the Met and Brooklyn exhibitions. It will be published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press.

Metropolitan Museum of Art