I DREAM of finding Bonnie Cashin clothing at a used clothing store–priced by someone who does not know what they actually have. This has not happened yet. So, the next best thing is to take a peek into some Bonnie Cashin pieces at a museum in New York: The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
Bonnie Cashin was one of the early (mid-century modern) designers of true, practical active wear for women. These are casual clothes that are bright and comfortable—it is hard to believe that women were just a few years away from stuffing themselves into rubbery girdles to fit Dior’s New Look inspired waistlines!
This dress –well, a blouse (1966) + skirt (1961)–is something that you could completely see on a runway right now. I’m actually surprised that Anthropologie hasn’t copied this tweed skirt (1961) yet.
And these bags look a little Kate Spade-ish (maybe you have to remove the fringe from that last one). Cashin designed these for her Coach line: Cashin Carry.
Occupational hazard! This one is an iconic Charles James silk and rayon gown from 1953 called the “Clover Leaf” gown because of the flare of the skirt. As a museum professional, one of the most interesting details about this specific gown is the fact that it was donated in 1953. How interesting that the collections staff at the Met understood that one of their tasks at the Costume Institute would be to collect the finest modern examples of couture fashion!
This other example, the “Four Leaf Clover” was also donated (to the Brooklyn Museum) in 1953 by Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney. The Metropolitan absorbed the Brooklyn Museum’s collection in 2009.
People with a flare for sewing would probably learn so much by studying these patterns and muslins! If only I had an artistic mind instead of one that is so historical!
But that’s one reason decorative arts historians do what they do. I grew up surrounded by fabric, and the crisp starchy smell of my mother’s sewing room has probably always been one of my favorite scents. I love any kind of fiber art and I’m a good knitter, but when it comes to sewing I can just barely sew a button back onto a shirt if I absolutely need to! That’s why I’m here to research clothes—- not to sew them!
So many museums share details about their collections on their websites, and although this may not really count as “hidden fashion history”—taking a peek can be so much fun.
As a museum professional who spends my full time workdays collecting, writing and preparing the information that goes onto a large museum’s online collections database, I can tell you that we are thrilled when visitors actually look up our work online and share it with friends! We put a lot of work into creating these records!!
This dress is from the collection of the V&A museum in London. It was designed in 1989 by Catherine Walker for Princess Diana and it was included in the clothing auction that Diana planned shortly before her death. My favorite detail about this dress is that the buyer was actually The Franklin Mint(!) and they held onto it for a few years, before donating it to the V&A.