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Marta Churchwell: Fashion featured in exhibit that’s closing soon | Lifestyles

By newadmin / Published on Friday, 13 Jan 2023 20:41 PM / No Comments / 4 views


BENTONVILLE, Ark. — Fashionistas interested in the history of American fashion and its cultural influences have until the end of this month to visit “Fashioning America: Grit to Glamour,” the latest feature exhibit at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

This is the museum’s first exhibit highlighting American fashion as an emblem of global visual culture, amplified by movies, television, social media, even red-carpet extravaganzas of the television, movie and music industries.

It isn’t one of the museum’s typical exhibits that employs art to give context to our history and culture, one of its fortes. This exhibit flips that and shows how our culture, along with technological innovations in manufacturing, have influenced fashion.

Featuring more than 100 garments and accessories from the 1790s to today, the exhibit focuses heavily on the work of designers, primarily Native American and Black designers, and those who immigrated to America.

One area of the exhibit traces the varied roots of our best known designers — Halston being originally associated with New York City department stores, Tommy Hilfger coming from the music industry or Ralph Lauren from New York design houses.

While that lends names to fashion trends, it seems to bog down general insights into American fashion throughout our history.

The exhibit opens with a short exploration of Early American fashion, noting how President George Washington was a proponent of locally produced fabrics and considered American-made fashion to be a political statement signaling independence from England.

Even in those days, denim was a front-runner in fashion fabric, its popularity cemented by its affordability and durability compared with other fabrics of the time. Aided by slave labor and the ability to mass produce the fabric by the 1850s, the U.S. began dominating the cotton industry and outpacing the European market.

After that brief background on how America carved its initial place in fashion history, the exhibit fast forwards to 20th century cultural influences on fashion.

Video clips from the 1953 movie “The Wild One” and the 1955 film “Rebel Without a Cause” point to how fashions influenced by the movie industry maintained a hold through the decades. The video storyboard notes that leather jackets and jeans have endured in being synonymous with rebellion after they were worn by Marlon Brando in “The Wild One” and James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause.”

Offering up examples of how fashions of the past have influenced those of today, the exhibit zooms in on the zoot suits of the 1940s. The baggy pants and long jackets of the suits and their accessory of a dangling watch chain foreshadowed developments in the modern-day street style of oversize clothes, bold accessories, and distinctive headwear.

One of the most evident impacts of culture on fashion came in the 1960s. The pop art movement of that era drew its inspiration from everyday cultural imagery included in advertising campaigns, comic books and general consumer goods. The counterculture rebellion aligned with pop art in fashion as a challenge to the elitism of the couture industry.

Pop artists Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein contributed immensely in shaping the fashion of that era. The exhibit offers up examples of their influences through two dresses, one designed in Lichtenstein’s cartoon-inspired style and another designed in Warhol’s repetitious commercial imagery, imprinted on a paper dress used to promote Richard Nixon in his presidential campaign.

As a woman, I was piqued by an exhibit area that focused on how undergarments influenced our concepts of physical beauty. Corsets forced emphasis on our figures by drawing attention to busts through tightening waistlines. Other undergarments followed suit through the centuries. It was encouraging, though, that exhibit storyboards point out that our concepts of beauty are evolving, and today’s designers celebrate all body types and design for them.

In an example of how far our fashion trends have come, one exhibit area focuses on how designers are buying into virtual reality. They are now including digital garments for avatars, and fashion consumers are creating virtual wardrobes for the online metaverse.

The exhibit runs through Jan. 30, and tickets are $12. It’s free for members, veterans, SNAP participants and youths younger than 18. Tickets may be reserved online at

Because “Fashioning America” can be toured quickly, you might consider also viewing a smaller exhibit, “Entre/Between,” a survey of the Latinx history of living in the U.S.

The exhibit explores themes of U.S. border history, labor and identity experiences that have affected Latinx communities. A portion of the exhibit includes paintings, photos, sculpture, and videos at Crystal Bridges, while related video works and performances are featured at The Momentary, the sister museum of Crystal Bridges, located in the heart of Bentonville.

The exhibit is free at both locations.


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