When Theater was Fashion

With everyone still mourning the demise of Bill’s Gay Nineties, fans of US theater of the early 1900s can gaze for one more week at the fashionable women who trod the boards way back then at the Bard Graduate Center’s show, Staging Fashion, 1880-1920.

Like the FIT’s Youthquake show, graduate students contributed heavily to this exhibition gem, which explores the intersection of theater and fashion back when stage actresses first became pop icons. Photographers needed celebrities to promote their studios; actresses needed to keep fans supplied with a steady flow of images; and designers wanted the latest to be seen on glamorous, trend-setting actresses.

The show on Bard’s top-floor gallery features clothes and images of three of the most popular actresses – Jane Hading, Lily Elsie, and Billie Burke. Check out the highlights – mass-produced postcards, theater fan magazines, advertisements, and personal testimonials for consumer products. Has pop culture really changed much? Judge for yourself.

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