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Fashion & Politics reveals the rich history of politics in fashion

10
Jun '09
Mars of Asheville, dress, light brown paper printed with red ''NIXON'' and navy stars, 1967-1968, U.S. / James Sterling, dress, paper printed with image of Hubert Humphrey, 1968, U.S
The Museum at FIT presents Fashion & Politics, a new exhibition in its Fashion and Textile History Gallery. Fashion & Politics is an exploration of more than 200 years of politics as expressed through fashion. In this setting, the term "politics" not only refers to the maneuverings of government, but also encompasses cultural change, sexual codes, and social progress.

Fashion & Politics displays how, throughout history, fashion has been a medium for conveying political ideologies and related social values by addressing such important themes as nationalism, feminism, and ethnic identity, as well as significant events and subcultural movements. Featuring more than 100 costumes, textiles, and accessories displayed in chronological order, Fashion & Politics reveals the rich history of politics in fashion.

The exhibition's introductory gallery explores the theme of American nationalism. Featured are a woman's costume, circa 1889, printed with an American flag motif, as well as Catherine Malandrino's iconic Flag Dress, worn by numerous celebrities and socialites to express patriotism after 9/11, and again in response to the historic 2008 presidential campaign. Also featured is an ''IKE'' dress from the 1956 Eisenhower campaign, a ''NIXON'' paper dress, and memorabilia from the 2008 presidential campaigns.

Following the introduction, the exhibition presents an overview of fashion and related textiles and accessories that illustrates the interrelationship of fashion and politics from the nineteenth century to the present day. This begins with a look at the role of fashion in nineteenth century cultural and class politics. For example, a neoclassically inspired gown, circa 1805, conveys democratic ideals through the medium of fashion. Also on view are examples of late nineteenth century women's sportswear, including a tailored bicycling ensemble and gym suit, which were inspired by earlier styles of reform dress such as the divided skirt and the bloomer.

Late nineteenth and early twentieth century ''Aesthetic'' dress--a form of early countercultural style--rejected the rigid silhouette of Victorian fashions in favor of looser-fitting garments. Examples of this are shown in designs by Liberty of London and Mariano Fortuny that emphasize health, comfort, and a graceful appearance.

Also featured is a series of textiles that chronicle the social and political developments of the first half of the twentieth century. These include a Communist propaganda textile from 1920s Russia, an anti-Prohibition scarf repeating the words ''Repeal the 18th Amendment,'' and a depression-era textile entitled Harvest (from one of FDR's New Deal programs).

The chronology continues with visual representations of patriotism during World War II, which are represented by objects that range from a pair of red, white, and blue leather heels adorned with metal stars to a triumphant ''Victory" scarf. A denim "Rosie the Riveter" factory jumpsuit is on view as an example of the functional work wear women adopted while contributing to the war effort. In contrast, women who enlisted in the W.A.V.E.S. division of the U.S. Navy were outfitted in uniforms by American couturier Mainbocher, a designer of the highest caliber.


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