FIT Museum examines the life and revolutionary work of Elizabeth Hawes – Sourcing Journal

The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology kicks off Women’s History Month with a new exhibit featuring Elizabeth Hawes, the fashion designer, journalist, critic, labor leader and social activist who blurred gender roles well before her time and made ready-wear fashion options for the crowds.

From March 1-26, the museum will be showcasing Hawes-authored clothing and books, photos, videos and memorabilia on its Midtown Manhattan campus in an exhibit entitled Elizabeth Hawes: Along Her Own Lines.

The first part of the four-part experience explores Hawes’ writing and social activism. “Clothes with a Purpose” includes books with titles like “Fashion is Spinach,” “Radical by Design,” and “Why Women Cry,” as well as the FBI’s file on her, which dates back to the 1940’s after she started her fashion business Quit was an editor at a left-leaning New York newspaper called PM, which attracted the attention of J. Edgar Hoover’s over-the-top agency at the height of the Red Scare.

Student curator Maria Ferrara said nothing was known about the FBI file on Hawes until 2010, well after the designer’s death in 1971 at the age of 68.

“What’s really tragic about it is that she never really realized that there was an FBI case against her,” Ferrara said. “She started losing clients because these FBI agents … went up to people and said, ‘Elizabeth Hawes is a communist.'”

The pieces in the collection are donated property of FIT, but Along Her Lines will be his first exhibition about Hawes.

“She wanted to make high-end clothing more accessible to the masses, so she started with ready-to-wear,” Ferrera said. “And she created some of the first gender-neutral, non-binary garments. She created ‘skirts for men’ in the 1930s.”

Unfortunately, the second part of the FIT exhibit, entitled “Men Might Like Skirts”, does not feature Hawes men’s skirts, but does feature their “Men’s Kimonos” and a colorful knitted swimwear bottom kept under glass and a multicolored colored one Flag that could happen at any modern Pride rally.

Elizabeth Hawes Multicolored Cotton Handknit for Men
Jockey shorts (front view), 1964, USA

rear view

“I feel like those are talking to the queerness and non-gender conformity and all those ideas [common] today,” Ferrara said. “She was so ahead of her time…she wanted to advocate for women politically, create non-binary clothing, and tell people to embrace their bodies and their birth, their forms and all of those things.”

A cartoon skunk hangs on the wall alongside many of the exhibits, including the swimming trunks. Ferrara said this was an homage to a prop Hawes would use in their fashion shows, where a skunk — one that has had its spray nozzles removed — would be part of the show.

“She had a skunk in her design studio and when her clients came in, she would have the runway models come out and they would walk that skunk,” Ferrara said. “People would see that and freak out.”

The skunk on the wall of the FIT Museum pays homage to Elizabeth Hawe’s trick of having models walk skunks down the runway when she hosts fashion shows at her studio.
Matt Hickman / Procurement Journal

Hawes had a nose for social commentary. Her most famous work, Fashion is Spinach, stripped the fashion industry of its time, calling 95 percent of it a “needless waste of time and energy.”

More than just a feminist designer, Hawes also attempted to liberate men’s fashion from its gender role constraints, writing in Fashion is Spinach that “Men’s clothing is truly revolutionized when the man asserts his right to be alluring and alluring.” to be considered decorative and beautiful like women.”

“That’s where she criticizes the fashion industry from within,” Ferrara said of the book, published in 1938. “She believed in style over fashion. She found changing fashion trends silly and somehow classy. Not everyone can keep up with changing fashion trends, so she really encouraged people to find out what their personal style is and connect with themselves.”

It’s an interesting moment for the FIT Museum to examine Hawes for the first time.

Her non-gendered fashion might not raise quite as many eyebrows today, but Ferrara wonders if her take on modern attitudes would be as forward-thinking as one would like it to be.

Multicolored silk men’s kimono
Jacket, circa 1962, United States.
Gift from Barnes Riznik

“I see her as so ahead of her time, but at the same time she’s also of her time,” Ferrara said.

Hawes’ legacy is also complicated by the fashion industry’s recent focus on sustainability and the fight against “fast fashion,” which, one could argue, helped bring about Hawes’ ready-to-wear mission.

“Maybe it’s about balance, isn’t it?” Ferrara said. “Fast fashion to the point where large numbers of people have access to quality clothing, but not beyond the point where the industry is now one of the biggest polluters in the world.”

Evening dress and bolero in gray striped silk with fringes

The exhibition also features Hawes’ contributions as a talented designer of elegant dresses with classically slim female figures, designs for maternity wear and a range of loose turtleneck tops from the 1940s that look almost as if they could be worn with go-go boots and match directly into a 1960s mod couture. These can be seen in the “Who the Hell are You?” exhibition. segment of the exhibition.

For Ferrara, the life of a Renaissance woman like Hawes reminds her why she wanted to study fashion museums in the first place.

“I like the public relations part and I think that’s why I respect Elizabeth so much; that she was trying to make fashion more accessible,” Ferrara said. “Most designers are very fashion oriented. And really, I don’t think there has been another designer who has written so critically about the fashion industry. It was really radical – how revolutionary.”

The 26-day exhibition includes a panel discussion entitled “Fashion Is Spinach: The Life and Work of Elizabeth Hawes”. In a conversation moderated by author and podcaster April Calahan, FIT professors and fashion historians Lourdes Font and The New School’s Francesca Granata discuss the importance of Hawes in American fashion. The event will take place on March 7 at 5:30 p.m. at FIT’s Katie Murphy Amphitheater. FIT Museum examines the life and revolutionary work of Elizabeth Hawes – Sourcing Journal

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