american woman


For a long time people have been trying to define the American woman, mostly for the purpose of mocking, dismissing or putting her in her place. “There is no such thing as ‘the fast girl’ in America,” says one of Henry James’s Englishmen, meaning, of course, that all American girls are fast – and this is more or less the view of an ambitious new Costume Institute exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The show, American Woman: Fashioning National Identity, roams over various fantasies of the emancipated American woman from 1890 to 1940, and there is a current issue of American Vogue on the same theme. The exhibit is pleasingly broken down into seductive, if random-seeming archetypes: the heiress, the Gibson girl, the suffragette, the patriot, the bohemian, the flapper and the screen siren, all exquisitely decked out, all involved in breaking rules, defying the old order. The American woman emerging from this lush panorama of satins, linens and silks, is jaunty, slim-hipped, athletic, informal, independent, and free. Her clothes are the canvas for her modernity, says Andrew Bolton, the show’s curator, who was also responsible for the Met’s 2008 show, Superheroes. And yet, does she really exist?

more from Katie Roiphe at FT here.