In Mint condition: decades of evening elegance
Web posted at: 8:13 p.m. EDT (2013 GMT)
From CNN Interactive Writer Wendy Wolfenbarger
CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (CNN) -- Bodices and bustles under yards of taffeta, the slinky drape of a bias-cut dress, the delicate point of a rhinestone spiked heel -- all are part of the innovations and allure of high fashion on display at the Mint Museum of Art.
More than just a lesson in dressing dapper, "Evening Elegance" documents in stitches and seams the rise of fashion houses and celebrated designers over the past century.
The haute couture creations are purely the stuff of parties and balls, debutantes and princesses -- as much fantasy as fashion.
The 80 suits and dresses are part of the museum's vast inventory of more than 6,000 items of historical costume and dress that have been collected over the past 20 years.
Starting with a 1840s floor-length wedding dress of delicate white silk taffeta and tulle spread over a mass of petticoats and ending with recent fashions, including an oh-so-'90s lingerie-style Versace slipdress of crumbled aqua silk, the collection follows the evolution of the feminine form.
From the hip-hugging bustles of fabric-full turn-of-the-century dresses to the freedom of the straight tube dresses of the '20s to Christian Dior's tiny waist and broad skirted styles that defined the '50s, it's as much the changing image of women as a history of hemlines.
Charles Mo, the Mint's Director of Collections and Exhibitions and the exhibit's curator, said the museum's most cherished gowns include a seemingly modern dress for the 1890s in which dozens of pieces of black velvet and white satin fabrics are intricately pieced together to create a skirt of diagonal stripes. Another is a post-WWII red dress by Madame Gres with dramatic butterfly-like pleated sleeves that fan out from the back.
There are more familiar fashions of not-so-long-ago attire that boldly date themselves: Free-flowing formless dresses of the '70s in shades of orange and rust and bold extravagant fashions of the '80s, complete with shoulder pads and bubble skirts.
A midnight-blue strapless dress covered in golden stars once worn to a royal dinner and the opera by Princess Diana is a timely reminder of a reigning model of '80s and '90s fashion.
The show also handles the accessories no dressed up women could be without: delicate handbags, gemstone-studded eye glasses, feather fans, silk gloves, and opera glasses covered in a fine layer of mother of pearl.
Mo said while people are intrigued by the glamour of formal wear, the tradition of formal dressing is changing as casual clothing creeps into evening hours. But don't ditch the chiffon just yet. He says while there is a "greater influx of casual dress" into many occasions, the art of dressing up will never go away.
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