Mother's Day at the Brooklyn Museum

Yesterday, was Mothers' Day. My husband wanted to spend time with me doing something fun, but he had work due and needed to put in several hours of work. My youngest had homework.
I decided to take the opportunity to visit The Brooklyn Museum and see the newly opened exhibit American High Style.

The exhibit has been launched to mark the new partnership between the Brooklyn Museum's extensive fashion collection and the Metropolitan Museum's Costume institute.

Since it was Sunday, and Mothers' Day I thought that the Brooklyn Museum would be far less crazed than the Met. So, I set out for Brooklyn with a good book to read on the subway to keep me company.

The exhibit opens with a selection of Worth dresses, all embellished like wedding cakes.  I really wasn't in the mood for that level of frou-frou so i didn't look all that closely.
I did, however notice a lovely Paquin wedding dress from around the turn of the last century. The outer layer of the dress was made out of a sheer dotted Swiss cotton. Bebeath the sheer fabric, white satin ribbons were attached at the waist and hung loose until the hem. The dress had further under layers of petticoat. I'm sure the ribbons looked great as the bride walked. It's a detail worth thinking about playing with.
One dress I particularly loved was this 1925 dress by Suzanne Talbott. I had never heard of her.  I love how the fabric that makes up the back of the dress is tacked to the shoulder creating a dramatic drape that can be worn trailing behind the wearer or can be slipped over your right arm and turned into a wrap.
Several Schiaparelli dresses were in display as well.  There was a pair of 1940's  blue wool crepe suits with charming buttons.  A slim white twill  coat with empty bullet casings as buttons.
The garment that really caught my imagination was a beach dress that was essentially two differently colored half dresses. Each half dress wrapped and tied around the opposite side of the body. the wearer could decide which color dominated the look by reversing the dresses. The ensemble came with a reversible cardigan. I may play with this idea and make a couple of two sided wrap dresses.

A section of the exhibit was devoted to women designers. The work of the women designers tended to be less flashy than the garments designed by men, but more wearable and timeless. It was chilly enough to wear the Claire McCardle's lovely wool jersey ensemble  home.

I also fell head over heels in love with Vera Maxwell's wool jersey knit ensemble. It was made up of a wrap top, , knickers or skirt and a coat. I am a big believer of garments that can go anywhere from scrubbing the floor to a fancy dinner out. Maxwell's clothing do just that in an elegant and effortless way.
Another new to me designer was Eva Hentz who designed a heart stoppingly beautiful black and white dress where faced white angles intersected their black counterparts.
Charles James' beautiful dresses are fascinating. They are on the face of it, classic ballgowns. On closer inspection they fetishize the female body in all sorts of complex ways. It is a little like discovering that your very straight laced mother is into S+M.
The exhibit is in short, totally worth a trip to Brooklyn.
 I did keep wishing though that the exhibit were set up by the brilliant curators at FIT who really understand what is important about garments.  They understand how to display garments so the questions a viewer has about construction can be answered with your own eyes.
I also wish that the notes describing the garments were a bit more accurate. Whoever wrote them was in love with the word tubular, even when it didn't apply. My other quibble with the show was the display of Russian headresses. I have no idea why they took them out of moth balls for the show. I think they would have worked in an exhibit on the connections between the Muslim world and Europe, but they were a head scratcher in this show.

The shoes and hats from the 1930's and 40's were wonderful and really added to the experience.

I captured the images from this post from the Brooklyn Museum site.  If you click on the header for this blog entry it wil take you to the Brooklyn Museum site.  There you wil be able to see some, but not all of the garments in the show.

The catalog from the show is terrific. It was an excellent early birthday gift from my mother.


  1. Always interesting to see things through a creative seamstress's eyes. Some of today's everyday styles really lack the creativity of days gone by! All we see are jeans, and more jeans---too bad, we are capable of much better.
    Thanks Sarah===


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