With this 1913 dress, both designer and wearer defied long-standing fashion boundaries. When Parisian designer Paul Poiret first sketched the Sorbet evening dress, he took a risk in leaving out the traditional corset, a then-essential garment that dated back to the Renaissance
Similarly, when the frock’s wearer, Anita Carolyn Blair, wore the gown to debut of Gladys High here in Chicago, she risked overshadowing the party’s hostesses with her “scandalous” outfit. It was Blair that donated the piece to the CHM in 1958, having sufficiently made her mark on fashion with it.
During Roy Halston Frowick’s relatively short-lived period of success in the 1970s (and after having studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago), he created this evening gown that sold at I. Magnin & Co. The silk jersey gown is decidedly disco, a testament to the Studio 54 era of debauchery that played a large part in the eventual downfall of Frowick.
But when Lynne Goldblatt-Durocher—wife of late baseball great and past Cubs manager Leo Durocher—wore the dress, it was reserved for much more refined affairs than nights at a club. Accessorized with diamonds, pearls, and a luxe fur wrap, Goldblatt-Durocher wore the gown to the opening of the Chicago Lyric Opera in 1976, and then again to the Big Brothers Charity Ball that same year. It was fashion coups such as these that put Goldblatt-Durocher on best-dressed lists throughout the city, and landed her gown in the History Museum’s collection in 1981.
Gianni Versace created this unique piece in the early 1990s, embodying many of the traits his label was known for, namely sex appeal and an inspiration from other artists.
The inspiration aspect is overt: the floor-length silk jersey gown is printed with a rainbow of Andy Warhol’s Pop Art images of Marilyn Monroe and James Dean. To speak to the sultry side, the dress’ chest and straps are covered with colored beads and rhinestones, like a bedazzled bustier.
The Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 was a collection of achievements in design, from Daniel Burnham’s White City to George Ferris’ debut of his now-famous Wheel. But not to be overlooked were the World’s Fair’s feats in fashion, such as this gown created for Chicago socialite Bertha Honoré Palmer by Parisian designer Charles Frederick Worth.
The incredibly complex frock features an amalgam of fabrics and materials—silk satin, silver cord, rhinestones, velvet, crepe, beads, sequins, and garlands. Although the end result is something a bit showy, nothing less could be expected of Palmer, who stood as the president of the Women’s Board of the Exposition and was very visible during that time. But unlike today, where celebrities follow an unwritten rule of only wearing a major gown once, Palmer commissioned this dress to be worn to several events throughout the course of the fair.
Not everything inside the CHM’s costume collection is an evening gown—Phillip K. Wrigley’s bathing suit is a recent acquisition and has not yet been exhibited to the public. As his famous name implies, Wrigley was a chewing gum tycoon and owner of the Chicago Cubs during the early- to mid-20th century.
Unlike men’s bathing suits of today, which are made from more practical material and usually feature a drawstring or elastic to keep them from falling down, Wrigley’s swimsuit was made of wool. Of course, when wool gets wet it is not only uncomfortable but also heavy, so Wrigley would zip on a top piece when he went for a dip to keep his trunks from falling down.
During the Greyhound Company’s time in Chicago from 1930 to 1971, they made an appearance at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, where they embodied their mascot with a real Greyhound dog and accompanying trainer.
Dubbed Lady Greyhound, the dog was bedecked in a silver lamé one-piece and accessorized with an over-the-top boa, rhinestone collar, and glittering tiara. While she shined in silver, Lady Greyhound’s trainer itched in a mustard yellow synthetic knit ensemble reminiscent of a Pan Am stewardess’ getup.
In the spirit of Halloween, we take a look at one of the world’s largest costume collections at the Chicago History Museum (1601 N. Clark St., 312-642-4600).