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The Roaring Twenties and The Swinging Sixties

Visit the Virtual Exhibition

The Fashion Institute of Technology's School of Graduate Studies and The Museum at FIT (MFIT) present The Roaring Twenties and The Swinging Sixties, a virtual exhibition comparing the fashions of the twenties and sixties, both periods of significant crisis and change. Organized by students of FIT’s Master of Arts program, Fashion and Textile Studies: History, Theory, and Museum Practice, the show features twenty-six objects from the permanent collection of MFIT and fashion illustrations from FIT’s Gladys Marcus Library Special Collections and College Archives (SPARC). It is supplemented with archival photographs that further demonstrate the parallels between the fashion of the two decades. The process of creating an exhibition is a unique experience and a key feature of the Fashion and Textiles Studies graduate program at FIT. For the first time, this student-led project is presented solely online, with the class working together remotely.
beaded shift in orange and yellows

Paul Poiret evening dress, gold silk chiffon with beads and rhinestones, circa 1926, France, P83.5.9, museum purchase.

sleeveless mini dress with orange and yellow wave pattern

Mila Schön dress, linen, circa 1968, Italy, 78.208.2, Gift of Mrs. Donald Elliman. 

The Twenties and the Sixties each brought about new ideas of the “modern woman” which impacted fashion in remarkably similar ways. These similarities are explored through six thematic sections: Twenties Nostalgia, Dreams and Discontent, Obsession with Youth, Music Mania, Cultural Appropriation, and Mode and Modernity. The shared spirit of the times, whether in art, music, technology, social movements and upheaval, or cultural inspiration, is highlighted by paired objects with discernible visual similarities.
The themes of The Roaring Twenties and The Swinging Sixties are especially poignant in light of the tumultuous beginning of the 2020s. In addition to the global pandemic, movements for social justice and racial and gender equality – similar to those of the 1920s and 1960s – characterized 2020. Visitors are invited to contemplate what effects the progressive spirit of the 2020s will have on fashion, and how the resulting designs might compare to those of the 1920s and 1960s.
sleeveless shift with blue, sequined vertical ribbons

Molyneux evening dress, blue chiffon with sequins and satin-lined organza, 1926-1927, France, 74.25.1. Gift of Phyllis Hulburd.

sleeveless black mini dress made up of wool pleats

Norell evening dress, wool crepe, circa 1965, USA, 70.43.21. Gift of Lauren Bacall. 

Visitors who access The Roaring Twenties and The Swinging Sixties arrive at a landing page featuring original animation that captures the spirit of the fashion and dance of each era, setting the tone for the experience. The exhibition website consists of four main pages: Exhibition, Timeline, Extras, and About where the content and educational programming can be easily accessed.
A series of pre-recorded public programming events accompany The Roaring Twenties and The Swinging Sixties. The Fashion Culture event, “From Louis Armstrong to Dizzy Gillespie: Jazz and Black Glamour ” is a conversation on the influence of jazz on 1920s menswear with jazz and fashion historian Alphonso McClendon and vintage performer Dandy Wellington, moderated by MFIT assistant curator Elizabeth Way. The program is available on YouTube.

Accompanying the launch of the exhibition are two videos: a curatorial walkthrough that delves deeper into the exhibition themes and includes behind-the-scenes content, and “The One Hour Dress,” that pits two seamstresses in competition to bring the fabled “one-hour dresses” of the 1920s and 1960s to life. For anyone interested in creating their own accurate twenties frock, a free and publicly accessible plus-size pattern archive has been developed from antique garments loaned to the class.

sleeveless, drop waist gold dress with beads and sequins

Evening dress, sequins, bugle beads, and tulle, circa 1926, USA, 98.23.2. Gift of Barbara Badyna in Honor of Isabel Halliburton.

spaghetti strap, sequined mini dress in brown ombre with beaded fringe from hip to hem

Yves Saint Laurent ensemble, silk organza, sequins, and beads, 1969, France, 74.107.8. Gift of Lauren Bacall. 

Fashion and Textile Studies: History, Theory, Museum Practice Master of Arts Program
In their second year of study, students in the Fashion and Textile Studies: History, Theory, Museum Practice Master of Arts program in FIT’s School of Graduate Studies work in collaboration with The Museum at FIT to create and install an exhibition.

This year-long course prepares students to enter the workforce as curators, conservators, registrars, or museum educators. The class handles every aspect of the exhibition process from concept to completion, including research, design, publications, and related events. The students draft proposal ideas in the spring of the previous year, and the museum selects the most viable topic. In-depth research begins in the summer, and the class formally begins to review and refine their thesis collectively in the fall, when they are divided into groups with specific roles and responsibilities. They continue to work in these roles throughout the fall and spring until the exhibition opens.  

The School of Graduate Studies at FIT provides advanced professional education in seven distinctive areas, promoting excellence in the post-baccalaureate study of fashion, business, art, and design. The school offers programs leading to the MA, MFA, and MPS degrees, and is dedicated to advancing research in the creative industries and fostering innovative collaborations that link students and faculty with industry and professional partners worldwide.