This past exhibition was on view from August 31 to December 5, 2019.
Little Black Dress: A Fashion Evolution features 37 deeply-hued garments from the 1860s through the 2010s, drawn from the Historical Society’s collections, alongside artwork by Washington women of the same time periods.
This history exhibition traces the story of how social norms have been reflected in fashion’s forms. From ruffled Victorian gowns through contemporary cocktail shifts, visitors learn how practical, social, and cultural changes in our history were expressed in clothing. As women’s roles changed, so did style, fabric, and function in fashion. The results could either reinforce norms or support countercultural movements.
Historical events and key individuals have influenced how women dress. Prohibition ushered in the first known cocktail dresses, and pants became more common as women entered the workforce during World War II. Celebrities like Audrey Hepburn, Jackie Kennedy, and Madonna were fashion trendsetters. The exhibit begins with black dressing as socially conscripted attire for mourning and those in servitude. 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 of the timeline, you’ll see 1990s minimalist styles and a nod to grunge. An interactive gallery provides touchable fabrics and black accessories from different time periods to try on, as well as an opportunity to don weighted aprons to compare the weight of garments from the 1880’s to the 1960’s!