A visit to the Met

Last week I finally got to see the Charles James exhibit


I had gone last week with my daughter. as much as she loves clothes, she has lass patience when it comes to exploring the frankly geekier side of clothing construction. In deference to her, my visit last week was shorter than I would have hoped.

Yesterday my sewing buddy Welmoed, drove up from Maryland to see the exhibit with a car full of her sewing friends. I took advantage of the opportunity of seeing the exhibit again with people who care about how the understructure of a dress is constructed, how a piece of fabric is cut . But seeing Welmoed is always a treat either with or without having the additional thrill of exceptional dresses to look at.

If you are kicking yourself for not having seen the exhibit,this page will provide you with enough links to give you a pretty good sense of what the exhibit was all about.

I was delighted by this exhibit by the Costume Institute. Their exhibits for the past several years were uniformly terrible if you actually are interested in looking at garments. I was so happy to see that you could actually look at the garments and the exhibit was set up to help you see the construction details. Hopefully this will begin a new trend at the Costume Institute.


Many of the dresses are dresses that I have seen displayed many many times before. I loved that this exhibit allowed me to see and understand them in a new way.

The dark ballroom like room made  me realize that when worn in a ball room, the wearer would look like a disembodied torso floating through space…almost the essence of dancing.


When I had last seen so many Charles James dresses exhibited together , a couple of years ago at the Brooklyn Museum, I was struck by how frankly kinky so many of the dresses were.  Body shapes are exaggerated.

This is the back view of the swan dress. He builds  giant posterior on the back of the dress.  I just watched This is Spinal Tap last night and the dress brings to mind one of the songs from the movie.


Other dresses play with other body parts, enlarging to gigantic scale what lies beneath.



His Taxi Dress, plays with both the erotic and the practical. This dress which wraps around the body  supposedly could be put on in a taxi.


No, it isn’t constructed like the more straightforward DVF dress of the 1970’s. This dress is not made of two identical halves attached to a back, instead the right front bodice does not have a skirt attached to it. The dress is constructed like a spiral.  the dress above was produced for a department store.

James made other more luxurious versions of the dress.


The satin dress below has a black metal zipper that spirals around the body.



Another great Charles James innovation was the down jacket. He made this one as a one off in 1938as an evening jacket. It’s filled with eiderdown  and looks like folded swan wings.


The back of the jacket though reminds me of something a five year old would love, shiny! satin! Hearts!SAM_2693

The big surprise for me in this show were the coats.


I loved the subtle detailing on this one. I love the alternating covered buttons. The slot seam button hole, just one and with that beautiful notch. it’s so austere and minimalistic.



I also loved this dress. We have all seen cheap knock offs of this one, but the original is sublime.


I am so glad I went. I am so glad I went back. I have an idea inspired by the show that is itching my brain.



After the museum I walked north on Madison Avenue. I wanted to share the displays in one of my favorite stores.  No, I have never bought anything there. It’s a Japanese tie store.


Seeing all of those beautiful colors, those gorgeous silks always makes me happy. The saleswoman was also very gracious about my taking photos.


  1. Lovely, Sarah. Thanks for taking photos and sharing them. The tie shop looks like candy! Only better!

  2. Thanks, Sarah! "enlarging to gigantic scale what lies beneath" teehee.......


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