Exhibition File – New at the Museum of Chinese in America

The Museum of Chinese in America opens two exhibitions tomorrow that add to the dialogue on modern fashion. Both focus on Chinese or Chinese Americans and their relationships to fashion and dress, which are often overlooked in the broader discussion.

Front Row: Chinese American Designers graphic, from Museum of Chinese in America

First, Front Row: Chinese American Designers “features the unique visions of 16 designers” in an exhibition curated by guest curator Mary Ping. It looks at social and cultural forces that gave rise to Chinese American designers in New York. The show explores two waves, the first in the 1980s, which included Anna Sui, Vera Wang, and Vivienne Tam, and a second, recent one that includes Derek Lam and Phillip Lim. Of note are the range of aesthetics and entrepreneurial paths in this group. It will be interesting to see the breadth of differences between these designers despite their common background.

Shanghai Glamour: New Women 1910s-40s exhibition graphic, from Museum of Chinese in America

The second show is Shanghai Glamour: New Women 1910s-40s exploring fashion, women, and the city’s identity during the early 20th century. The way women dressed during this period was emblematic of modern life — changing social, political, and gender roles were revealed. This exhibition was guest curated by Mei Mei Rado.

Both exhibitions run until September 29.

And don’t miss Eric Wilson’s Front Row column in the New York Times this week. He highlights both shows.

Address: Museum of Chinese in America, 215 Centre Street, New York, New York
Hours: Tuesday-Wednesday 11-6, Thursday 11-9, Friday-Sunday 11-6
Admission: adults $10, seniors and students $5, members and children under 12 free
Website: mocanyc.org/exhibitions/upcoming_exhibits/front_row_chinese_american_designers + mocanyc.org/exhibitions/upcoming_exhibits/shanghai_glamour

Sport and Dress During the Olympics

I’ve been totally absorbed by the Summer Olympics. They fascinate me, for the obvious reason of watching tests of the human body and mind.

It’s fun to learn about new sports. My husband, Travis, and I have been trying to watch some of the less popular sports through NBC’s iPad app streamed through our Apple TV to our television. We keep coming back to table tennis because the players are just so good. We’ve enjoyed learning about handball (which seems to be a crazy mix of water polo and soccer), team archery, trampoline, and indoor cycling, like team pursuit. I keep meaning to find time to watch some badminton and white water kayaking/canoeing too.

Of course we’ve been engrossed by the more popular sports like gymnastics, diving, track, and swimming. I used to be a swimmer, so those events are especially meaningful to me. It’s always fun to have insider info on how a sport works and cheer on people you’ve met on a swimming deck once a long time ago. I was a distance swimmer, so the long events like the 400, 800, and 1500 have a love/hate place in my heart.

But besides the incredible feats of strength, skill, and execution, I’m interested in what the athletes are wearing. Not just the uniforms, but the ways the athletes present themselves as individuals are intriguing to examine.

I’m always kind of amazed how much jewelry the athletes wear, especially those who complete in time-related events. One would think that necklaces or other pieces might get in the way or increase drag, but that doesn’t seem to deter the athletes.

In the photo of the men’s 100-meter semifinal above, I spot three men wearing necklaces and one with a bracelet.

Athletes express themselves through their hair, their nails, their hats. Watching all the different dress practices is entertaining and gives outsiders a look into the culture of each particular sport.

Missy Franklin’s nail art is pretty cool. I don’t know if I was unobservant during past Olympics, but it seems more female athletes are sporting nail art (pun intended) this time.

Maybe because I’ve never seen team archery before, but this sport and its dress are my favorite during this Olympics. It seemed to me that bucket hats are favored among most of the different countries, many of them with plaid lining on the upturned brim.

The South Koreans above are a great example of individuality in athletic dress. All three wear the same hat, shirt, pants, and shoes (and quite the bright green shoes they were), but look at the variety in the chest guards — one white, one pink, one patterned with little female archers. They each wear different types of jewelry such as earrings and bracelets. My uninformed assumption would be that bracelets could majorly impact the way you shoot, but obviously these are gold-medal athletes who know much better than me.

And I had to include this last photo of American high jumper Erik Kynard. This guy has quite a sense of style with those socks. No doubt that he doesn’t like to blend in with the other jumpers.

Book File – Symposium Goodies

It seems I can’t go to a Costume Society symposium without a bunch of new books finding their way into my luggage. This year I really tried to be more conscious of the weight they would add to my bag. In the end this was my haul:

Performance, Fashion and the Modern Interior: From the Victorians to Today edited by Fiona Fisher, Trevor Keeble, Patricia Lara-Betancourt, and Brenda Martin
I bought this book from the Berg/Bloomsbury table. The intersection of all these topics sound very interesting, and I’m excited to read the essays in it.

Women’s Bathing and Swimming Costume in the United States by Claudia B. Kidwell
This book came from the CSA silent auction. Bathing attire has always been a fringe interest of mine, and I want to learn more.

Gold Rush Women by Claire Rudolf Murphy & Jane G. Haigh
This was another book that came from the silent auction. I actually ended up in a bit of a bidding war with another member/friend, but it turned out that she was more interested in a different book that came bundled with this one. So I ended up trading with her for the book that came bundled with the bathing suit book and we both got what we wanted.

Fashion Theory, Volume 15, Issue 1 & 2, 2011
The Berg table was giving away Fashion Theory journals for free, so naturally I jumped on them. Turns out I already own Issue 2, so I guess I have a copy to find a new home for. Fashion Theory is an excellent journal and always publishes very interesting articles.

Textile, Volume 9, Issue 2, July 2011
Another free journal at the Berg table. The article on the Keiskamma Tapestry caught my eye, because I saw it at the Houses of Parliament in Cape Town when I did my graduate study abroad in South Africa.

Off To Costume Society of America

Every year I look forward to this week — Costume Society of America’s national symposium. This year the symposium is taking place in Atlanta. As a fashion historian, it’s a rejuvenating time to learn more about my subject, network and socialize with like-minded individuals, and give back to the organization.

I leave today because I serve on the Board of Directors, and we have our first of many meetings tonight. The actual symposium kick off is Wednesday afternoon, even though there are many pre-symposium events taking place. It runs until Saturday and will be jam packed with lectures, panels, lunches, a keynote speaker, and a few social events. We’ll be touring the Atlanta History Center later in the week.

It’s great timing this year, because within the last couple weeks I’ve been craving some sort of educational opportunity. I was thinking about taking a summer university course, but the start of the term caught me off guard and I wasn’t quite prepared. So I’m especially looking forward to taking in all the panels and speakers I can.

If you are going to the CSA national symposium, please let me know — either in the comments, on twitter, or shoot an email to me. I would love to meet you!

Reliving Titanic Through Fashion History

detail of dress by Paul Poiret, 1910-11 from The Kyoto Costume Institute

The 1910s are one of my favorite decades of dress. With all the attention on the anniversary of the Titanic sinking, it seems everywhere I look online there’s been a story featuring what people on the ship or their contemporaries wore.

evening dress by the House of Worth, 1910 | evening dress, 1909-11 both from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

And I do admit that I watched Titanic, the 1997 Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio version, yesterday. I am pleased that I didn’t stoop to going to see it in 3D though. I was in 8th grade when the movie was released, and it was a huge deal to almost everyone my age back then. Now it’s a bit of a guilty pleasure movie for me, but I do realize how cliche it was to watch on the very day of the anniversary.

But back to the fashion of the period. The beauty of the clothing from the teens rests in the details and the colors. The way clothing was constructed rapidly changes after the teens. The beautiful tucks and pleats, embroidery and lace, sequins, and other elements just aren’t the same a few decades later. There’s something so quietly beautiful in the delicateness of the fabrics and the styling, especially in the early years of the 1910s.

detail of dress, 1913-15 from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The teens were part of a transitional period from restrictive dress to clothing that allowed for a wider range of movement. Women’s suffrage and participation in sports played a large part in the shift, and the tastes of American women impacted what styles designers in Europe produced.

female tennis players, 1910-15, photo from logicstock llc

So it’s not a big surprise to me that people are taking an interest in the clothing of the 1910s on the anniversary of the Titanic sinking. Dress studies is gaining importance as people realize it helps tell new stories about history. By looking at the clothing people wore on the ship, we have a new connection to that moment. And the clothing of this period is so lovely, that it’s hard not to be a bit fascinated by it.