On this week's Intersection, we're touring the University of Missouri Museum of Art and Archaeology at Mizzou North with museum Director Alex Barker. We also visit Stephens College's Reel to Real exhibit, which is on display through December 13. Join host Sara Shahriari and reporter Guimel Sibingo as they explore these two venues.
By GUIMEL SIBINGO
Walking into the exhibit for a tour of Stephens College Costume & Museum Research Library’s Reel to Real exhibit, you immediately notice a painting of the stylish and classic Audrey Hepburn in a large 60’s style hat. She’s wearing a little black dress and pulling her glasses down while innocently looking to the right.
The painting is a backdrop to three black dresses draped over white mannequins that are part of the “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” section of the exhibit. The film was released in 1961, a time when Jackie Kennedy was coming of age and just before baby boomers reached puberty. Dean of School of Fashion and Design and curator of the Costume Museum and Research center Monica McMurry said the film influenced fashion at the time – especially with the little black dress.
“You can’t go wrong with a little black dress,” she said. “The little black dress had been around since the twenties with Chanel, but the little black dress came really into its own through ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s.’”
McMurry, along with guest curator Sheryl Farnan and assistant curator Jennifer Cole, sought to explore the relationship between Hollywood films and every day fashion in the 20th century from the 1930s to the 1990’s. Thirteen films are represented from “Gone with the Wind” to “Pretty Woman.”
The exhibit begins with the 1930s with movies from the Depression era like “Dinner at 8” and “Leddy Litton.” McMurry said that films were a form of escape for many people at the time, and a glimpse into wealthier society.
“Most people weren’t at those cocktail parties and such, so it was so it was a way to kind of dream about what another life style could be.”
Cole said the style during this time period was classical and not exactly affordable to the average person.
The rise of World War II and the war in the Pacific in the 1940s brought with it a new style imbued with tropical prints and sarong style dresses portrayed in “Jungle Princess” starring Dorothy Lamour. But it also brought restrictions.
Cole explained that because fabric was being redirected for war resources, individuals relied on accessories like hats.
“Before war, into the forties this is how people were able to spruce up their wardrobe,” she said “They didn’t have endless supplies of clothing so they could buy a new hat and have kind of a new look.”
Films like the 1950’s “A Place in the Sun” starring Elizabeth Taylor made the iconic silhouette typical of prom dresses or ball gowns of today extremely popular. McMurry said the sillhoutte has been re-done for generations.
“It’s this very feminine, hour glass, full hipped, look,” she said. “Some of that just never goes out of style in more formal wear or times of tradition like with weddings.”
“Doctor Zhivago” and “2001: A Space Odyssey” heavily influenced fashion in the 60s. Flower children began to look at vintage clothes and incorporating clothes from other cultures into their style. John Travolta’s “Saturday Night Fever” was reflective of women’s new liberated style. McMurry said Calvin Klein jeans and shiny fabric accentuated women’s curves and bodies.
“Shiny was really important because of disco lights and fit,” she said.
Cole said she was in high school when “Desperately Seeking Susan,” the 1985 film starring a young Madonna, came out. It was the age of MTV and new media. Madonna brought with her the idea of the unique do-it-yourself style employing jewelry, leather jackets and netted gloves.
“It was young women just really expressing their voice that was the controversial part,” McMurry said.
“Out of Africa,” starring Meryl Streep, was released in the same year. It reflected a changing climate as women began working outside of the home. The style was similar to men’s bringing with it a heavy use of the khaki from coats to pants. The 1990 Julia Roberts and Richard Gere 1990 film Pretty Woman concludes the exhibit, reflecting the rise of the celebrity as a fashion star.
McMurry stressed that fashion reflects culture.
“There’s a lot more to what people are wearing than what they’re wearing,” she said. “That it always reflects what’s happening in culture, what’s happened previously in culture, and so what someone chooses to wear speaks, it has its own language but then it has an individual speech and then it has a collective speech”
Definitely something to remember the next time you pull out that little black dress.
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity
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Intersection is produced by Caty Eisterhold and Ailin Li. Our community outreach team is Kara Tabor and Hellen Tian.