Decades of Style

Yves Saint Laurent (French, born Algeria, 1936 – 2008) for the House of Dior. “Refrain” Cocktail Dress, 1958. White silk surah printed with gray and black pebble pattern. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Iselin, Jr., 1959. Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Clothes tell the story of an age.

A dress can reveal the defining spirit of a particular period, or capture the preoccupations of a historical moment. For example, Yves Saint Laurent’s “Refrain” dress for House of Dior (above) can be seen as a harbinger of the “youthquake” culture of the 60’s, and a predecessor of the A-line silhouette that helped to define the era. High Style: The Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection, on view at the Legion of Honor through July 19, traces the evolution of fashion over the twentieth century, with stops in every decade. We call out a few below.

Jeanne Lanvin (French, 1867 – 1946). Evening Dress, 1923. Peach silk crepe and gold silk tulle embroidered overall with rhinestones, gold sequins and metallic thread. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009;Designated Purchase Fund, 1984. Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

1920’s

As the 20's roared, the drop waist tubular silhouette shirked the traditional corset, an article of clothing that represented stricter social customs. Lanvin's dress serves as sartorial symbol of women’s new freedoms during this era of flappers and bathtub gin.

Claire McCardell (American, 1905-1958. Ensemble, 1946. Wool jersey and cotton poplin. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Claire McCardell, 1956 Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art

1940’s

By the mid-1940's, American working women and housewives were eager to shake off the austerity of the war years and enjoy clothes that offered easy comfort with panache. McCardell designed for a multi-faceted lifestyle while creating ensembles for the bustling ready-to-wear garments industry.

Halston (American, 1932 – 1990).Evening Dress, ca. 1975. Silk chiffon tie-dyed in orange to yellow ombré grid pattern with green diagonal stripe. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Carol Siris Roaman, 1983. Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art 

1970’s

As the idealism of the 60's waned and the "Me Decade" began, Halston updated the tie-dye technique that had helped to define the hippie generation. His new upscale approach is represented by this caftan, created from a single length of fabric. 

 

Arnold Scaasi (American, born Canada, 1931). Evening Ensemble, 1983. Brown and pink silk taffeta; pink silk organza poppies. Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of the Brooklyn Museum, 2009; Gift of Mrs. William Randolph Hearst, Jr., 1991. Image © The Metropolitan Museum of Art 

1980’s

The Reagan era ushered in a renaissance of upscale dressing, and the opulence of the 80’s reached its zenith in this profusion of poppies rendered in silk organza lavishly applied to taffeta skirt and cape. Lavish, sumptuous, and magical, Scaasi's evening gowns are worn for making a sensational entrance.

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