THE OTHER DAY I sent the photos for this post to our art director, LittleBird Kathy, and in return she confessed that she’s been whiling away some pandemic hours re-watching episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
“I love most seeing the clothes we used to wear,” Kathy wrote. “The perky mini dresses, the flared pant suits. The clothes were so darned cute then. . . . I just never understood why Rhoda lived in an unfinished attic.”
Mary’s clothes were the cute ones, mostly. They were ’60s-meets-modern-working-woman. Her neighbor and sidekick Rhoda, with all those gypsy-like head scarves, was the other ’60s-’70s woman—exotic and brassy (with one helluva New York accent) and just the type of person, I would argue, to live in an unfinished attic.
Kathy loved Mary’s clothes but Rhoda’s brass.
All of this is by way of saying that the Museum at FIT sent out a Designer Spotlight this week featuring the 1960s designs of couturier André Courrèges, contained in the museum’s collection of 50,000 pieces of clothing and accessories. Exquisitely tailored, the garments are the shining models for the bonded-polyester dresses many of us came to wear back then as the designs of Courrèges and London designer Mary Quant made their way down the fashion ladder to those of us near the lower rungs. (That bonding gave cheaper clothes the structure without the expense of sophisticated tailoring.) The look was always lean, the silhouette uncluttered.
But the Museum at FIT also has a couple of videos, parts one and two of 100 Years of Fashion on its website. Scrolling through the decades with the FIT curatorial staff shows us how far we’ve come and . . . not. Coco Chanel’s relaxed jersey separates were heralded in the 1920s as radical because they were simple and comfortable. Today, I find them dowdy; her design house languished for some years before the fashion genius Karl Lagerfeld took over and sexed up the look, the one we know today.
Poring through the FIT online files is a bit of a treasure hunt with a somewhat tricky map. But the search can be worth a solid hour or two. It’s certainly capable of drowning out Election 2020 angst.