“Fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion is in the sky, in the street. Fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.” – Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel
How does fashion reflect social and cultural values? The Washington State History Museum creatively connects clothing and social constructs through the story of the quintessential “little black dress.” A timeline of garments, from ruffled Victorian gowns through contemporary cocktail shifts, tells stories of practical, social and cultural changes in our history.
Dress styles and construction often mirrored social standards and perceived norms for women’s roles. As ideas about women’s roles changed, so did style, fabric, and function in fashion. The results could either reinforce cultural norms or work to define countercultural movements. Historical events and key individuals have influenced how women dress. Prohibition ushered in the first known cocktail dresses, and pants became more commonplace as women entered the workforce during World War II. Celebrities like Audrey Hepburn, Jackie Kennedy, and Madonna were fashion trendsetters.
LBD: Little Black Dress, A Fashion Evolution fills a large gallery with deeply-hued garments from the mid 1800s through the early 21st century. Each dress is shown with artwork by women of the same time period, drawn from the Historical Society's collections. The exhibit begins with black dressing as socially conscripted mourning attire. Moving into the mid-1920s, American Vogue revealed Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel’s first iconic illustration of the little black dress, described as “the Ford,” playing on Henry Ford’s statement about the Model T: “available in any color… so long as it’s black.” Toward the end, you’ll see 1990s minimalist styles led by designers such as Calvin Klein, Giorgio Armani, and Nicole Miller. It wouldn't be complete without a nod to Washington’s famous contribution to the fashion world –grunge–which popularized thrift-store shopping.