Friday, May 31, 2013


A stunning 1999 painted silk chiffon dress by Alexander McQueen for Givenchy.

The Museum at FIT opened their latest exhibit last week called RetroSpective, examining how designers have always looked to the past for inspiration. The show “presents an overview of historical references in fashion, with a strong emphasis on the recurrence of silhouette,” as noted by curator Jennifer Farley.

My favorite groupings were the ones showing clothes made in different eras that were based on the same style, such as the Empire waist, dresses heavily influenced by the Roaring 20s, or the long and lean late-1930s silhouette. Here are a few pairings that really caught my eye:

A Robe à l’anglaise from 1765 next to a 1951 dress by Balmain with a similar silhouette.

This beautiful Robe à l’anglaise from 1765 is the oldest piece I have seen on display at FIT. It has been wonderfully preserved and showing it next to a 1951 Balmain allows the viewer to marvel at just how tiny ladies were over 200 years ago!

Panniers, which are left and right side hoops, give this gown its shape.

This dress is in remarkable condition for being almost 250 years old!

A 1923 Lanvin, left, and a 2009 dress by Agatha Ruiz de la Prada.

A 1923 black silk taffeta robe de style attributed to Lanvin, above, makes use of panniers, as does a 2009 dress of multicolored satin ribbon by Agatha Ruiz de la Prada.

Jane Austen, anyone? A 1962 Norell, left, with an evening dress from 1810, right.

The Empire-waist evening dress on the right, above, is from 1810 and was an early example of fashion looking backward, as the lines of this dress emulate the simple lines of Greek clothing. The red dress on the left is a 1962 wool crepe and satin “Josephine” dress by Norman Norell, when he himself was looking back to the early 19th century.

Hoop dreams. An 1860 dress of plaid silk taffeta next to the cage crinoline that gives it its full shape.

The look in the mid-19th century featured voluminous skirts, at their widest around 1860, which made the waist appear smaller. The skirts were supported by hoop undergarments, called cage crinolines.

A 1996 dress by Yoshiki Hishinuma, left, with a 2013 ensemble by Thom Browne.

Browne’s creation next to a 2004 wedding gown by Olivier Theyskens for Rochas.

Thom Browne’s wild Madras print ensemble shows the cage crinoline on the outside. The 2004 wedding dress by Olivier Theyskens for Rochas also makes the crinoline (and corset) visible, featuring it as part of the gown’s design.

What Gatsby? A red 1925 Leneif dress next to a 1961 dress by Marc Bohan for Dior.

A 1965 Norman Norell, left, with a 1988 dress by Carolyne Roehm, right.

Another interesting set of dresses were those actually from or inspired by the look of the 1920s. The red 1925 Leneif dress of red satin and bugle beads is the only original, the other three, by Marc Bohan for Dior, Norman Norell, and Carolyne Roehm all show how relevant that silhouette has remained through the decades and that it’s still a rich source of inspiration for designers.

A 1938 dress by Farquharson & Wheelock, left, with a 1972-73 design by Halston, right.

A Farquharson & Wheelock 1938 dress of gold lamé is perfect next to a 1972-73 copper silk jersey dress by Halston, whose body-conscious designs reflected a similar aesthetic.

RetroSpective is on view through November 16, 2013.

The Museum at FIT
Seventh Avenue at 27th Street
New York NY 10001-5992
Hours: Tuesday-Friday: Noon-8PM
Saturday: 10AM-5PM
Closed Sundays, Mondays, and legal holidays
Admission is free


PinkCheetahVintage said...

WOW!!! Such gorgeous dresses :)

Aya Shirai said...

I love this! Thanks so much for the pictures and write-up.

I've been looking for an entry-level costuming book that shows where silhouettes, sleeve shapes, and so on originated; would you happen to have any recommendations?

Pam @ over50feeling40 said...

I wish I owned the first gown...then I would create a scenario where I could wear it...fabulous!

Jill said...

Hi Pam, did you mean the McQueen? I am going to do a whole separate post just on that dress, I fell in love with it once I got in close and saw the details. It is beyond amazing, it is truly a work of art! XO, Jill

Jill said...

Hi Aya! Hmmm, I have a general book, 'Costume 1066-1966' by John Peacock that I bought in London half my life ago that shows fashion over hundreds of years in simple line drawings. It's a great resource. But let me go through my insane fashion book stack and see if I can find something more updated. I will get back to you! XO, Jill

Anonymous said...

Beautiful gowns! It is interesting to consider how cuts from one century or decade are reinterpreted in another.

Oh, and I did add your blog to my blog roll.

Sacramento Amate said...

You always bring me magic, dear Jill.