skip to con tent

In this section

Night and Day

Loretta Lawrence Keane, Vice President for Advancement and External Relations
Cheri Fein, Executive Director of Public and Media Relations, 212 217.4700 or [email protected]

On view at The Museum at FIT in New York, December 3, 2009 May 11, 2010

The Museum at FIT presents Night & Day, a new exhibition examining how the rules that dictate appropriate dress for women have changed over the past 250 years. Featured will be more than 100 day and evening garments, textiles, and accessories that illustrate the conventions during various eras for proper attire for a particular time of day, activity, or occasion. Night & Day will reveal the evolution of the rules that govern fashion, including periods when strictly observed etiquette was the norm and other times when more flexible guidelines prevailed.

Night & Day will open with two striking pairs of garments that represent night and day from two different eras. Representing the 1920s will be an Art Deco-inspired sportswear ensemble juxtaposed with a heavily beaded evening dress. From the late 1940s, a jaunty Elizabeth Arden trouser ensemble appropriate for weekends in the country will be paired with a dramatic taffeta and velvet dinner suit by Charles James. The exhibitions theme will be further reinforced in the introductory gallery by a group of Christian Dior garments from the 1950s, a decade during which there were multiple categories of day and evening wear. These clothes will be displayed in a traditional fashion show sequence, beginning with daywear and ending with formal evening attire. Christian Dior accessories will highlight the importance in the 1950s of a complete look.

Following that introduction, the chronologically organized exhibition will begin with the eighteenth century, when clothing was classified by its degree of formality and worn according to the occasion or activity, such as attire for an evening in a formal drawing room versus the less formal setting of a country house. The full spectrum of this hierarchy will be illustrated by Galerie des Modes fashion plates (1778-1787) and represented by a robe langlaise, which was worn in more relaxed social settings.


Sportswear ensemble day ensemble dinner ensemble
Sportswear ensemble, navy blue, turquoise, and ecru wool, circa 1929, France, museum purchase.


Elizabeth Arden (Antonio Castillo), day ensemble, green plaid wool, black silk velvet, ivory silk chiffon, circa 1946, USA, gift of Doris Duke.

Charles James, dinner ensemble, purple silk taffeta, black silk velvet, 1947, USA, gift of Beatrice Simpson.

Christian Dior New York, afternoon dress, sea green silk taffeta, circa 1952, France, gift of Mrs. Helen Ziegler.

Christian Dior, evening dress, printed ivory silk satin, spring summer 1956, France, gift of Mrs. Michael Blankfort.

As the exhibition progresses from the nineteenth to twenty-first centuries, day and evening clothes will be juxtaposed in pairs or small groups, illustrating what made each piece appropriate for a particular time of day. In addition to the changes in silhouette, these groupings will allow the viewer to see when the rules were at their most extreme or so subtle as to be barely perceptible.

Since the early nineteenth century, women's clothing has primarily been divided into daywear and eveningwear, categories that are governed by specific dress codes. Early examples in Night & Day will include a white cotton day dress from circa 1815 paired with a silk evening gown from circa 1824. One of the distinguishing features of 1850s fashion was a full skirt. Dresses were divided into two pieces, a bodice and a skirt, and it became common practice to have alternative day and evening bodices that could be paired with the same skirt. This will be demonstrated by a chin taffeta dress with two bodices, circa 1853.

The rules of dress reached their apex during the period from the turn of the twentieth century until World War I, when fashionable women were required to change their clothes up to six times per day, depending on their social obligations. A trio of dresses from the 1910s will show the still strict division between dressing for day and night. Examples will include a 1917 Callot Soeurs afternoon dress, a circa 1918 yellow silk tea gown, and a circa 1919 dramatic, black beaded evening dress from Bonwit Teller.

After World War I, fashion permitted a more relaxed set of guidelines. The buoyancy of 1920s nightlife will be represented by a champagne silk cocktail dress and a circa 1924 metallic lace evening dress by Jean Patou, both displayed against an Art Deco textile with a bubble pattern. Accessories will include a pair of embroidered, pink satin shoes by Pinet, circa 1924. A 1930s clutch handbag equipped with a working watch highlights the sleek functionality of daytime accessories. A dramatic pairing from 1939 contrasts the sharp tailoring of a Schiaparelli day suit with the grand sweep of a Lanvin evening gown.


evening shoes Clutch handbag
Pinet, evening shoes, pink silk satin with polychrome silk embroidery, circa 1925, France, gift of Frank Smith Collection. Clutch handbag, cream and black wool with metal watch, black enamel and faux turquoise, circa 1933, USA, gift of Fernanda Munn Kellogg.

Some of fashions traditional dress codes temporarily collapsed during World War II, partially due to wartime restrictions, but also because women had fewer opportunities for social and leisure activities. However, the war affected fashion differently in France and the United States. This is most noticeable in the stark contrast between an unadorned linen day dress, circa 1945, by the French couturier Robert Piguet, and a circa 1943 evening gown with dramatic beaded embellishment by the American designer Adrian.

Fashions of the 1950s again demanded a strict set of rules corresponding to a renewal of formal society. Day suits, afternoon and dinner dresses, as well as formal evening gowns, once again became essential elements of a fashionable woman's wardrobe. These revived dress codes will be represented by pieces including Jacques Fath daywear, a Chanel suit, and a Jean Dessès evening dress.

The strictly delineated rules would all but disappear in the 1960s and 1970s. The mix during this period of high and low is evident in the juxtaposition of a Betsey Johnson vinyl evening dress with a Balenciaga wool evening ensemble. Metallic gold gladiator evening sandals further demonstrate the decades departure from tradition. A circa 1970 Jean Muir dress of sheer fabric trimmed in suede could be worn any time of day, while a circa 1971 Paco Rabanne evening dress features unconventional materials and a daring silhouette.

Day and evening clothes were well defined in the1980s, even while undercurrents of the avant-garde and post-modernism led to a multiplicity of styles. Thierry Mugler's strong-shouldered day suits and Christian Lacroix's historicizing evening dresses helped define the decade. The draped knits of avant-garde Japanese fashion, however, looked forward to the deconstructed silhouette of the 1990s, when standard dress codes were not embraced, as demonstrated by a Helmut Lang dress from 1993.

True day suits, cocktail dresses, and evening gowns still exist, but contemporary fashion adheres to very few traditional rules and promotes loose definitions of daywear and eveningwear. Although a 2004 Rochas evening dress will illustrate the continuing legacy of fashions most stringent etiquette, the coat of a 2008 Calvin Klein ensemble, embellished with crystal paillettes, will again challenge our perception of what is appropriate for night and day.

Night & Day, presented in the Fashion and Textile History Gallery, is organized by Molly Sorkin, along with Colleen Hill, Harumi Hotta, Lynn Weidner, and Tiffany Webber. The exhibition will be on view from December 3, 2009, through May 11, 2010.


evening dress ensemble
Rochas (Olivier Theyskens), evening dress, black Chantilly lace with black and silver cellophane embroidery, spring 2004, France, gift of Maison Rochas. Calvin Klein (Francisco Costa), ensemble, black wool, black crystal paillettes, gray silk, fall 2008, gift of Calvin Klein, Inc.

The Fashion and Textile History Gallery presents biannual exhibitions examining aspects of the past 250 years of fashion. Exhibitions are curated exclusively from The Museum at FIT's extensive collection. Support for this exhibition has been provided by the Couture Council.


The Museum at FIT is the only museum in New York City dedicated solely to the art of fashion. Best known for its innovative and award-winning exhibitions, which have been described by Roberta Smith in The New York Times as ravishing, the museum has a collection of more than 50,000 garments and accessories dating from the eighteenth century to the present. Like other fashion museums, such as the Muse de la Mode, the Mode Museum and the Museo de la Moda, The Museum at FIT collects, conserves, documents, exhibits, and interprets fashion. The museums mission is to advance knowledge of fashion through exhibitions, publications, and public programs. Visit www.fitnyc.edu/museum.

The museum is part of the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), a college of art and design, business and technology educating more than 10,000 students annually. FIT, a college of the State University of New York (SUNY), offers 44 majors leading to the AAS, BFA, BS, MA, and MPS degrees.

The Couture Council is a membership group of fashion enthusiasts that helps support the exhibitions and programs of The Museum at FIT. The Couture Council Award for Artistry of Fashion is given to a selected designer at a benefit luncheon every September. For information on the Couture Council, call 212 217.4532 or email [email protected].

Tuesday Friday noon-8:00 pm
Saturday 10:00 am-5:00 pm
Closed Sunday, Monday, and legal holidays
Admission is free.

Photography: MFIT