by Eva Gratta

Harvey Peake, “Why Not Let the Cubists and Futurists Design the Spring Fashions?,” New York World, March 16, 1913. American Newspaper Repository, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Duke University

Harvey Peake, “Why Not Let the Cubists and Futurists Design the Spring Fashions?,” New York World, March 16, 1913. American Newspaper Repository, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Duke University

In 1913, the impact of the “New Art” was felt beyond the confines of the New York’s 69th Regiment Armory.  In March 1913, one journalist reported, “disconcerting news comes from Paris. The arbiters of fashion have become inoculated with the futurist germ…Hence they are going to embody those strange artistic ideas into millinery and dressmaking art.” Unenthusiastic about the new designs, the author mockingly commented that “two-fingered gloves” would become “the acme of smartness.” Similarly, the New York World reported on modernist “Styles that Really Startle,” including makeup and hair dye in shocking colors. Cartoonists frequently caricatured fashionable women with cubist-inspired distortions of form. But, jokes aside, what did so-called “futurist” or “cubist” fashions actually look like?

From written descriptions and rare photographs it seems that these avant-garde clothes ranged from the experimental to the everyday. The press reported several fancy dress parties, in the United States and Paris, where guests were encouraged to wear costumes inspired by the avant-garde. At a Futurist party given by Mr. and Mrs. Arend Van Vilesingen of Chicago, guests “wore conventional evening gowns of satin and bunches of flowers with the futurist decorations pinned on.” At an artist’s ball in Paris, women wore costumes imitating “Gauguin’s models, only they were a little more fully clothed.”

To some extent, avant-garde aesthetics also influenced clothing made for the American consumer. The Chicago Dressmaker’s club exhibited two “cubist” gowns in March 1913: “The first is called the ‘conservative,’ and the cubist lines are limited principally to the pattern of the weave and the marking of the silk goods. The second is called the ‘extreme’ and is the complete evolution of the cubist’s fondest dreams.” Retailers like Marshall Field and Co. and Wanamaker’s advertised “cubist” clothing for women. Wanamaker’s ads directly connected their wares to the Armory Show; featuring the distinctive Armory logo, they declared that their designs “expressed the spirit of the times.”

Eva Gratta, Research Assistant

The Armory Show at 100: Modern Art and Revolution is on view October 11, 2013 through February 23, 2013 at the New-York Historical Society.

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