Marta Churchwell: Fashion at the soon-to-close exhibition | Lifestyles

BENTONVILLE, Ark. – Fashionistas interested in the history of American fashion and its cultural influences can visit Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art’s newest exhibit, “Fashioning America: Grit to Glamour,” through the end of this month.

This is the museum’s first exhibition to highlight American fashion as a symbol of global visual culture, enhanced by movies, television, social media, even red-carpet extravaganzas from the television, film and music industries.

It is not one of the typical exhibits of a museum that gives context to our history and culture through art, one of its strengths. This exhibition turns that on its head and shows how our culture, along with technological innovations in manufacturing, has influenced fashion.

Featuring more than 100 garments and accessories from the 1790s to the present, the exhibit has a strong focus on the work of designers, primarily Native American and black designers, and those who immigrated to America.

One area of ​​the exhibition traces the diverse roots of our most famous designers — Halston originally associated with New York department stores, Tommy Hilfger from the music industry or Ralph Lauren from New York design houses.

While it lends names to fashion trends, it seems to overwhelm general views of American fashion throughout our history.

The exhibit opens with a brief survey of early American fashion, noting that President George Washington was a supporter of locally produced fabrics and saw American fashion as a political statement signaling independence from England.

Even at the time, denim was a pioneer in fashion fabrics, its popularity boosted by its affordability and durability compared to other fabrics of the time. With the help of slave labor and the ability to mass produce fabric by the 1850s, the US began to dominate the cotton industry and overtake the European market.

After this brief background on how America earned its initial place in fashion history, the exhibit quickly moves on to 20th century cultural influences on fashion.

Clips from 1953’s “The Wild One” and 1955’s “Rebel Without a Cause” show how fashion influenced by the film industry has persisted through the decades. The video storyboard states that leather jackets and jeans have endured and become synonymous with rebellion after being worn by Marlon Brando in “The Wild One” and James Dean in “Rebel without a Cause”.

The exhibition offers examples of how the fashions of the past influenced those of today, zooming in on zoot suits from the 1940s. Loose trousers and long suit jackets and their complement of a dangling watch chain heralded the evolution of modern street style oversize clothing, bold accessories and bold headwear.

One of the most significant cultural influences on fashion came in the 1960s. The pop art movement of the time drew inspiration from everyday cultural images contained in advertising campaigns, comics, and everyday consumer goods. The countercultural rebellion associated with pop art in fashion as a challenge to elitism in the fashion industry.

Pop artists Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein were immensely involved in shaping the fashion of the time. The exhibition offers examples of their influence through two dresses, one designed in Lichtenstein’s cartoon-inspired style and the other designed after Warhol’s recurring commercial images, printed on the paper dresses used to promote Richard Nixon in his presidential campaign.

As a woman, I was fascinated by the exhibition area which focused on how underwear has influenced our perception of physical beauty. Corsets forced emphasis on our figures by drawing attention to the bust through cinching in waists. Other underwear followed over the centuries. However, it was heartening that the show scripts point out that our concept of beauty is evolving and today’s designers are celebrating all body types and design for them.

As an example of how far our fashion trends have come, one exhibition area focuses on how designers shop virtual reality. They now include digital clothes for avatars, and fashion consumers create virtual wardrobes for the online metaverse.

The exhibit runs through January 30, and tickets are $12. It’s free for members, veterans, SNAP participants and youth under 18. Tickets can be booked online at

Since “Fashioning America” ​​can be walked through quickly, you might also consider checking out the smaller exhibit “Entre/Between,” an exploration of Latin American life history in the US.

The exhibit explores themes of US border history, labor, and identity experiences that have impacted Latino communities. Part of the exhibit includes paintings, photographs, sculptures and videos at Crystal Bridges, while related videos and performances are presented at The Momentary, Crystal Bridges’ sister museum located in the heart of Bentonville.

The exhibition is free at both locations.

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