(left) Yellow silk faille dress, circa 1770, USA (possibly); (right) yellow silk men’s coat, circa 1790, USA (possibly)
1700s trend: Yellow
In the 18th century, an influx of imported Far Eastern arts to Europe created a fashion for chinoiserie (Chinese-influenced design) and the color yellow, an auspicious hue the Chinese associated with the emperor. Previously used by the Catholic church to mark heretics, the sunny tone was reinvented in European courts as a symbol of power, wealth and stylishness (also true if you were wearing it in spring 2013).
Tartan silk dress, circa 1812, Scotland
1800s trend: Tartan
Waverley and other 19th-century novels by Sir Walter Scott piqued an interest in Scottish culture on both sides of the Atlantic. Once the British royals got on board with the print (originated by Highland clans), its favor was secured. King George IV adopted it as his official dress after an 1822 visit to Scotland, and in 1856, Queen Victoria had her Scottish estate house, Balmoral Castle, fitted out with tartan upholstery, curtains and carpet.
Evening gown, silk satin, rhinestone, circa 1930, USA, gift of Lucinda S. Day
1930s trend: Glamour
During the Depression, people escaped wholeheartedly into the glam world of Hollywood, taking their style cues from screen sirens like Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford. The starlets didn’t wear elegant, bias-cut floor-length frocks just for show—their costume designers realized that a shimmery, rhinestone-studded silk-satin gown like this one would contrast well against a dark background (or a man’s suit) in black-and-white films.
(left) Oscar de la Renta, circa 1963, USA, gift of Diana Vreeland; (right) Emilio Pucci, circa 1970, Italy, Gift of Robert Wells in memory of Lisa Kirk
1960s trend: Exoticism
Modern long-haul air travel is a singularly heinous ordeal, but in the swinging ’60s it was a romantic pastime reserved for the jet set. As part of the exhibit, a clip from HBO documentary In Vogue: The Editor’s Eye explains the magazine’s initiative under then–editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland to utilize far-flung locales for fashion shoots. On display nearby is a foreign-flavored vestment plucked from Vreeland’s own wardrobe: a burnt-orange Oscar de la Renta kaftan.