On my latest visit to Manhattan, we took in an exhibit at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on American women and fashion.
There were photos, video, and actual pieces of clothing, including shoes and accessories, from the last decades of the 19th century through the 1930's. There were bustles and corsets, gowns that pushed breasts up enhancing them, and those that flattened them completely, all in the name of style.
I found it fascinating. Whether we consider ourselves fashionistas or completely hopeless in this department, we are all of us defined in some way by the fashions of our time.
It was particularly interesting to read the historical information included with each decade's pieces, reflecting on how the trends may have affected, or been affected by, the current political climate and society's attitudes toward women.
Is it a coincidence that skirts were raised and hair bobbed after women got the vote? At this same time fashion also dictated that voluptuous women bind their breasts, perhaps eschewing all that was blatantly feminine, yet simultaneously rejecting, in some way, part of what defines us physically as women.
My grandmother, pictured above (on the right) with her sister (in the middle) and a friend in the early 20's, once confided to me that she felt flattening her bosom this way had "ruined" her breasts for life.
Ironically, by the 30's and the golden movie star era, curves were being celebrated like never before and starlets like Rita Hayworth were swinging their hips in incredibly clingy gowns with plunging necklines.
The exhibit ended there, leading me to hope that in the future there'll be another, maybe featuring fashion from the WWII years on through the glamorous 50's, flower-children 60's, and bra-burning 70's.
I admit to occasionally going bra-less in the late 70's, but my mother very vocally disapproved, and I believe my 48 year-old breasts thank me emphatically today for not making this a habit.
At the end of the exhibit we found ourselves in a circular room with a continuous slide show on all sides, flashing shots of famous women and fashion over the years. There were suffragettes marching in their long Gibson Girl dresses and huge hats, Marilyn Monroe in that memorable pink gown, and Michelle Obama striding down the road in her yellow coat on Inauguration Day.
All the while, the song American Woman blasted out as we turned round and round, absorbing the show on every side. Gazing upon each of these exquisitely memorable women and this amazing parade of individual style over the years.
It made me proud to be a woman. No matter what I decide to wear.