More Than Miss American Pie

Say bye bye to the absence of American women in history with the new exhibit, “American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The collection, which features iconic women’s clothing from 1890 to 1940, addresses the evolution of women’s roles in American society through fashion.

Today, on May 5, the show — which will run

until August 15 — includes garments by designers who changed the landscape of femininity and women’s status outside the home where they were once relegated. The exhibit mixes the struggle for gender equality with women’s successes during that period, cooking up a fresh new recipe of Americana. According to the Met, figures like “Gibson Girls,”  the “Bohemian,” “Suffragist” and “Screen Siren” fashioned new perceptions of women, reflecting the “social, political and sexual emancipation” they achieved over 50 years.

The collection, which visitors can view with an

American Woman via

audio tour, is narrated by a modern American icon from the Big Apple: Sarah Jessica Parker. Costume Institute curator Andrew Bolton, told WWD, “Because of Sex and the City, she is so much associated with New York and with America, and with using fashion as a way to shape identity.”

This weekend I plan to see the exhibit in person, but today I took a sneak peak at the Met’s Collection Database online. I found the timeless elegance of Charles James‘ draped gowns from the 1930’s and 40’s to contrast sharply with the spritely summer dresses by Jeanne Lanvin, which seemed to step out of the opulence of The Great Gatsby. Yet, earlier pieces, like the antiquated black riding habit crafted by Frederick Loeser & Company, date back to 1897 and speak to the adventure women had when they were not tending the kitchen, but out in the world, looking crisp and athletic compared to the intricate and traditional ballgowns by the House of Worth.

Coincidentally, the structured riding habit also caught the eye of Anne Christensen of the New York Times, as she searched for American designers in the showcase. “The long black riding habits in this room were designed by Frederick Loeser & Co., which was founded in Brooklyn in 1887 and was in business up until 1952.” To view photos of the collection and to read her insight from a preview of “American Woman,” read “Now Showing.”

I look forward to experiencing this time of women’s stylish evolution, a complex slice of life, at a time when great American women are not simply defined by what they wear, but by what they can learn, create and do.

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