Common Threads: Dress, Identity and Art in the Twentieth Century
March 31-June 15, 2001
Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art


The twentieth century was one in which an incredible panorama of events unfurled to shape the generations that lived through it. Dress provides us with a window on this amazing period, documenting the evolution of society and its values through corresponding changes in concepts of individual style.

The visual language of art and fashion shares common threads, though not always concurrently.
In this exhibition art and fashion were placed in juxtaposition, sometimes offering complimentary visions, sometimes in unsettling contrast. We usually view artworks in the neutral environment of the gallery without considering the aesthetic context in which new artistic ideas first emerged. In this exhibition the contrasts and connections between art and fashion illuminated the issues and events that shaped this amazing century.


Modernist modes of expression in the fine arts emerged in this first decade of the twentieth century, but the forms of fashion were still caught in the strict rule of manners and morals defined by conventional ideas of social hierarchy. The forthright posture and somewhat relaxed materials and cut of fashion relative to earlier periods did express the fact that women of all classes found themselves increasingly involved in a more active public life. The sinuous curves, delicate colors and soft materials of fashion reflected the aesthetics of Art Nouveau, the first truly modern decorative arts style. Art Nouveau style drew on nature to create a truly new aesthetic, drawing inspiration from Japanese stylistic concepts that also utilized natural forms.


next decade
back to top