When it comes to fashion frontrunners, we’re used to seeing our French, Italian, and Russian neighbors top the best-dressed list. But this Monday, the American style-setter will get to enjoy the fashion spotlight, as the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute Gala celebrates this year’s exhibition, American Woman: Fashioning a National Identity.
American women have a long and proud –- yet often overlooked –- legacy of amazing style and impeccable taste. From Brooks Brothers as the first American ready-to-wear company, to the incredibly talented young designers of today, the sartorial timeline of this country is wrought with legacy, distinction, and pride.
With American women and their fashion choices as the topic and focus of media attention recently, what better time to rediscover and celebrate some of the most noteworthy –- and yes, even outrageous –- trends of this great country of ours? Not only have American women donned lovely fashions du jour and dressed to the nines for banquets, galas, and grand evenings out, these true blue females have also used fashion to support war efforts, protest the unjust, profess liberation and break down social restrictions. From leg makeup instead of nylons in the 1940s to afros in the 1970s to grunge and androgyny in the 1990s and 2000s, American women have worn their fashions with pride and purpose –- with some raising a few eyebrows along the way.
In honor of this glorious recognition from the Met, Condé Nast and the CFDA, we’re revisiting some of America’s most notable fashion moments with our picks for the biggest style game changers in American history.
As muse to Charles Dana Gibson, one of the most popular artists in America at the beginning of the 20th century, Evelyn Nesbit was the country’s most legendary Gibson Girl. The Gibson Girl was the personification of the feminine ideal, made noticeable by a slender figure, ample bosom, and hair piled atop the head in the contemporary bouffant style. Evelyn made her way to becoming one of the most in-demand artists’ model in NYC and was the subject of one of Gibson’s most well known works, “The Eternal Question.”
Clara Bow epitomized the Flapper look, America’s Prohibition-era style of dress that began women’s long journey for liberation from social restraints. With her short hair, bare arms and flashy outfits, Bow signified the trend of women emulating a young male figure in not-so-subtle professions of wanting to blend the lines between gender roles.
Legendary actress and style icon of the 1930s, Katharine Hepburn shook the fashion world of her time by often showing up to film sets in men’s shirts and trousers, a trend that was not looked favorably upon during a time when women were expected to be feminine and fair. Hepburn helped revolutionize the female look of her day, and brought confidence and courage to many in breaking free of conventional “feminine” expectations of the time.
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, wife of late President John F. Kennedy, remains a fashion legend to this day. Always impeccably dressed, Jackie O. was the epitome of simple elegance and refined taste, long-standing mantras of American fashions that hold true to this day.
With her outrageous hair, and even more outrageous fashion choices, this musical megastar made an unforgettable impact on American fashion. Refusing to be confined to prim-and-proper tendencies, Tina Turner often sported an afro, the popular hair style signifying freedom of self choice and unrestrained being, and ultra mini-skirts that showed off more leg than the country was used to seeing. Turner marched to beat of her own drum -– both musically and sartorially –- and will forever be remembered as one of this country’s most significant style icons.