The SAGA visit to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York was to a class room where curator Ellen Shanley took us through a century of costume history in just over an hour, showing us examples of womens fashions of those times. Some of the garments were the original; others were muslin copies. Copies have been made to the exact detail as the original is too frail to be constantly handled.
A 1920's ready to wear beaded evening dress
Some of the originals showed signs of aging through fading of the acetates and heavily dyed silks. Some threads had changed colour over the years and no longer matched the garment colour. Other signs of aging were thin areas of cloth, especially where the weight had been born on a hanger.
We also learned about the changes in garment manufacture because of changes in the state of the world, such as the effect of the 1929 Stock Market crash and the Second World War. Hard times change fashion by the amount of money people have and also restrictions on the availability of materials.
Snaps and Buttons-lower end ready to wear
Ellen explained the difference between high end pieces and those sold less expensively. It is all in the details! An example would be the expensive garment that would have bias button loops down the back and buttons to do up, whereas the less expensive garment would have snaps and buttons sewn on top to give the illusion. One example was a kaftan style dress which was a designer item as high end paisley print fabric had been used along with woven ribbons to give the ‘Hippy’ look but at a high end cost!
Bands of expensive woven ribbon on a designer 'Hippy' kaftan!
We saw how garments went from needing structure underneath (such as tight corsets with metal and wooden stays) to being more free form and then back to structure, but this time built in, as in many dress from the 1950’s that involved much boning and structure, but this time a little more forgiving too.
A corset with wooden and metal stays
Fashion dictated the ideal shape a woman should have from emphasis on busts, butts, to having no shape, being boyish and an hourglass figure to the more anything goes standards of today.
Thank you to Ellen and the staff of FIT for sharing the clothing with us. You can visit the website at www.fitny.edu to find out more about FIT, classes offered and exhibitions at the museum.