More from the Charles James Exhibit


Now I want to share the second part of the Charles James exhibit at the Met Museum in New York, which celebrates James’ most famous works: his ballgowns.


Fifteen of his gowns are displayed like sculpture, each on separate “islands” which allow visitors to circle the gowns and see all sides from up close.

Charles James dress

A number of the displays are equipped with “cameras” moving around the dresses and pointing a crosshatch of light on different areas of the gowns. Then, on a video screen, you see an animated Xray of that part of the dress from the interior, with an explanation of the boning, tulle and other supports holding up the gown from the inside.

Charles James Tulip dress

I noticed that the “Tulip Gown” above had the same triangular piece wrapping forward at the waist as the pattern for Charles James skirt I just made. (Details are in this post (Charles James skirt muslin).

Some videos start by displaying the pattern pieces that make up the gown, then via animation, the pieces assemble themselves to construct the dress.

Charles James naughty dress patternCharles James exhibit digital display

If dress engineering and patternmaking are your thing, you may faint at this point. The architectural firm of Diller Scofidio and Renfro was brought in to design the exhibit, and they did a masterful job.

Here’s an example of one of the pattern animations, from the New York Times’ website: (Charles James animation)

The gowns themselves are stretched onto dressforms, playing up the sculptural and frankly erotic aspects. As my sister helpfully pointed out, “that one looks like a giant (expletive deleted).” Watch your language, sis!


It’s true that many of them look, well, phallic, and this next one in particular is, erm…what’s the opposite? Vulvic?

Charles James naughty dressMillicent Rogers in Charles James

What do you think people said to the socialite wearing this? “Excuse me, Mrs. Rogers, but your dress, it looks like a giant…ummm… Say! Refill on your cosmopolitan?”

Oh my goodness, what has gotten into me?

But of course it’s the Met, so they started to wax poetic about Georgia O’Keeffe’s erotic flowers paintings being a big influence on the gown and blah-dee, blah-dee, blah…

Then as I was walking around the museum, looking for a place to change from heels to flats and put on the knit pants I’d stuffed in my bag (because I like to dress up, but I have my limits), I stumbled on the “American Art from 1905 – 1940” room. This is one of my favorite periods in art, so as I wandered among the Hoppers and other “guy” paintings, I spotted those O’Keeffe’s.

Georgia O'KeeffeGeorgia O'Keeffe


Unfortunately I was too agog by the whole thing to take many photos of the gowns, so if you’d like to see more of the exhibit, the Met has posted this video on their website, showing a number of the gowns and dresses. It’s in high-definition video, and includes commentary from the exhibit’s curators. I highly recommend it.  (Met Museum Charles James Exhibit Video)

Also Bill Cunningham’s exhibit and Met Ball photos from the New York Times are here: (Bill Cunningham photos)

As for me, clearly it was time to get out of “haughty, naughty, spawty, gaudy” New York and back to Boston proper to calm down. But what a show!