Monday, January 23, 2006

Back from NYC

If you happen to be in the NYC are sometime before late March, I recommend stopping by the "Fashion in Colors" exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt, even if you don't like fashion. The Kyoto Costume Institute has lent the museum several pieces so they can show off the history/evolution of color in western fashion from the past 300 years. It's really, really neat. Everything is grouped by color, and the exhibition design is quite clever. Even if you don't like looking at dresses in museums, or think fashion isn't art, the more eccentic designs that are quite possibly thoroughly unwearable might prove otherwise. Like the blue lantern dress with no sleeves. Or the giant faux-gift bow dress/top thingy with the motorcycle helmet. If you go, you MUST get the audio tour. They have minimal informative placards, and every costume has its own blurb on the tour.

These were some of the interesting tidbits I walked away with:

1. Black was really only worn by men or women in mourning, and those women had to wear a very strict outfit of head-to-toe matte black with no jewelry. However, around the mid-to-late 1800s, black could be worn for fashion. This happened for three reasons:
a. Queen Victoria was still in mourning, and people thought she looked good in all black (I actually find that a little sick).
b. A new synthetic black dye was invented around this time.
c. Women were starting to be accepted in public society (versus being forced to adhere to the man/public sphere woman/private sphere binary), but in order to fit in, they had to look like men, who wore black, so women wore black too.

2. Wearing more than one color in an outfit was seen as vulgar until the 1400s or so. Prostitutes and clowns were really the only people who did this. But when explorers started going to Asia and importing rich tapestries and patterned silks with multicolored designs, wearing multiple colors at once was finally accepted.

3. Yves St. Laurent was born in Algeria. (I have a whole new appreciation for those beaded collar paisley shift dresses that were so huge in the 60s (a look started by YSL, he claimed it was his interpretation of African tribal necklaces and collars, African patterned cloth, but seen through the eyes of the hippie drug culture).

4. Those long, white, cotton dresses with the empire waists that are seen attached to anything associated with Jane Austen were supposed to look like columns--this was a reflection of Neoclassicism (I don't know why I missed that before).

The stats:
Fashion in Colors
Cooper-Hewitt Museum
Until March 26, 2006
Smithsonian members get in free

Also, "Spamalot" was very, very good. VERY good. It has David Hyde Pierce and Hank Azaria. Did I mention it's very good? If you're a Monty Python freak like me, you should go.


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