Thanks to their gorgeous beading—and to the high-spirited women who wore them—the flapper-happy clothes of the 1920s have long fascinated historically minded fashion lovers. But, as a new exhibit at F.I.T. demonstrates, the decade that followed, the relatively dreary 1930s, was the true highpoint of innovation and creativity. “The rebirth of classicism inspired designers to highlight and enhance the natural line of the body,” says Patricia Mears, the deputy director of the Museum at F.I.T. and co-curator of Elegance in an Age of Crisis: Fashions of the 1930s. “They took advantage of new technologies, like wider looms, which allowed them to cut on the bias, to create a truly modern look. It was a golden age.”
The exhibit is a first in that it examines both women’s and men’s clothes, with G. Bruce Boyer curating the latter. Men didn’t wear bias cuts, but tailors did begin to deconstruct jackets, guiding their customers away from the padded Edwardian look to the modern V-shaped silhouette. Still, only about half as much clothing was produced during the ’30s compared to the ’20s; even the rich wore their clothes more, and wore them out. “This isn’t a jazzy show,” Mears says. “There’s an inherent fragility to this time period. The details and nuances are very subtle. But despite the desperation that people were feeling, there was still a desire to be ebullient. People become innovative during periods of deprivation.”
Elegance in an Age of Crisis: The Fashions of the 1930s, The Museum at F.I.T., Seventh Avenue at 27th Street, February 7 – April 19.