Boston’s “Hollywood Glamour” Exhibit, and Step Away from the 20s Chanel, Ma’am.

I wanted to share a few pictures from a beautifully-curated “jewel box” of an exhibit I attended recently at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. “Hollywood Glamour: Fashion and Jewelry from the Silver Screen” features gowns by Chanel, Edith Head, Travis Banton, Schiaparelli and other famous designers and costumers from the 20s through 40s, along with some big flippin’ ROCKS of jewelry…okay, I may be getting a little overexcited, but trust me, if you saw them, you’d have a hot flash, too.


Let’s start with what, to me, is the best, most beautifully preserved vintage dress I’ve ever seen in person, and that’s saying a lot, as I’ve attended a number of the big fashion exhibits over the past couple of decades.


The dress was created in the mid-20s by Chanel, and it was worn by actress Ina Claire in a photo for Vogue by Edward Steichen.


The dress appears to have a black silk bias underslip, and over it is a mesh dress with the most exquisite sequin and beaded flowers. It’s so Chanel and ahead of the curve. The preservation is just pristine.

Though photos without flash are allowed in the exhibit, as I leaned in to get a closeup of the beading, a loud BEEEEEEPPPPPP rang out through the hushed room, and I was suddenly worried the “authorities” from Casablanca would come bursting in. Readers, these are the risks I take for you.

The dress is from the collection of U.S. Vogue Editor-at-Large Hamish Bowles. In previous posts, I’ve written about my extreme jealousy of his writing prowess and large couture collection. Hamish, invite me over to look through your closet anytime; your articles are always favorites of mine.

The exhibit has a number of dresses and outfits from 30s and 40s movies, with a clever film loop running in the back, showing them in the films:


I loved this dress, created by the costume designer Gilbert Adrian, which Greta Garbo wore in the movie “Inspiration”:


I’m already trying to figure out how I can hack that pattern.

And how about this dress, created for Mae West by Schiaparelli?



The exhibit also features the special platform shoes Mae West had made up to wear in films, to give her a few inches of extra height:


And there was this Vionnet-inspired gown, designed by Edith Head, for a young Betty Grable:


The exhibit also includes costume design sketches, like this one by Travis Banton, created for Marlene Dietrich.


Then I moved on to the bling, and sadly I was too dazzled to take many notes. Can you blame me?


(Those are Mae West’s gigantic aquamarines…)

This excellent exhibit was put together by Michelle Tolini Finamore, Curator of Fashion Arts, and Emily Stoehrer, Curator of Jewelry at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts; two jobs I’d like to have in another life. The exhibit runs through March 8th, so if you’re in the Boston area, check it out!

Here’s more about the exhibit from National Public Radio, journalists who are far less lazy than I.

I always enjoy wandering around the Boston MFA (particularly now that their new addition includes a huge atrium and restaurant), and even though the museum seems big on the outside, it always has a nice flow and intimacy.

For example, on my way to the exhibit, I stopped for awhile at the top of a grand staircase, to sit in one of the club chairs provided and ruminate on a small collection of hand-woven Persian rugs.


A little later, walking down a hallway, there was a mini-exhibit of vintage advertising from WWI:


Then I went around the corner to a modern installation and found:


My fabric stash!! I knew I left it somewhere!

Actually, it’s a work by artist Shinique Smith, (but it really does look like my stash):


Now that I’ve found my fabric…back to work!

And just a quick reminder, if you’re stuck in the snow in the Northeastern U.S… I have a couple of free downloadable patterns available on Bernina’s, which can be sewn up quickly using pieces from your stash. The first is a Midcentury Claire McCardell-inspired Infinity Wrap/Scarf made from knits:



The second is an authentic 50s design for a scarf with tucks and a buttonhole, known as The Hepburn Scarf:


Both projects are part of a vintage project collaboration between Jet Set Sewing and Bernina USA. For details, click the “Bernina Collaboration” tab above. And if you give either pattern a try, please let me know!

Hope your sewing’s going well!


34 thoughts on “Boston’s “Hollywood Glamour” Exhibit, and Step Away from the 20s Chanel, Ma’am.

  1. Oh, it would have been wonderful to see this exhibit! I have often pored over pictures of that particular Chanel gown, and would have loved to see it up close in person. Hilarious about your stash!

  2. I’ve had that “alarming” experience — I was told once at the Met that if I set off one more alarm, I was out! (It was the Poiret exhibit, and I fully admit to leaning in a bit too far, a few too many times!

    And strangely enough, I have that WWI food poster in my kitchen.

    Looks like a great day at the museum.

  3. Your blog just gets better and better. I really enjoyed this tour of the show. Everything is so beautiful. Sigh. Your next project should be to watch the movies with those gowns in them.

    • Thanks so much, Nancy. I would watch those movies, except I live with two guys who control the remotes, and when I try to watch Netflix, they bug me. Someday… Hope you’re feeling better and back at that sewing machine soon!

  4. Wow … what fabulous gowns and gorgeous bling! However, the statuesque “fabric stash,” made me feel at home. Thanks so much for this little jaunt. Meg M.

    • Hi Mary, I know, those guards at FIT are quick! They didn’t let me get one photo of the Dance and Fashion exhibit! Think Homeland Security is watching over the fashion exhibits now?

  5. Thanks for sharing – at least a small glamps on these gorgeous pieces. Yes…my stash looks the same … maybe it is mine – not yours 😉
    I need sewing inspirations … I hope my Marfy catalog will arrive soon 🙂

    • Hi Beata, I used to disco dance in platforms like those Mae West shoes. It’s easy to spin, but you can really turn your ankle. I’m very inspired by the 70s Halston patterns now, speaking of disco. Looking at vintage patterns always gives me ideas.

    • I think I should get in touch with this artist, so we can donate the stash we don’t like to her. It’s a win-win because then she has materials for her works, and we get rid of some of our “stash anxiety.”

  6. Thanks for taking risks and sharing these beautiful dresses! I always play the game ‘which one would you pick if you were offered the choice’? The Garbo dress for sure!

    • I’ll admit I put up those bad photos of info cards because I was too lazy to write it all out! I’m not big on bling, either, but the design of those pieces really makes them works of art.

  7. Gorgeous!! I, too, have encountered that beeping sound at a museum exhibit . . . whoops! The security guards were very understanding – although they might have been a bit more upset with me it they only knew what I would do to see the insides of some of those vintage pieces . . .

    • Hi Laura Mae, thanks for stopping by! Do you think they have you, me, Karen and all the other vintage sewing “suspects” in some kind of museum “wanted” listed? I hope they put up good pictures of us in our “makes” at the Post Office!

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