Located on Level T of the Human Ecology Building
A suit does wondrous things to the human body. The fabric and its crafted architecture envelope and reshape the body to convey a story, status, and setting. From power suits to exercise suits, all enable action. While these suits range in their appearance and action, they share a common thread in delivering the wearer to a desired sphere—that is, of costuming through practicality and fabrication.
Look A: Green gym suit
Worn by Beatrice Falk and Dianne Rosborne Meranus
Max Goodman and Sons, United States
1935 and 1960 (multigenerational)
Gift of Dianne Rosborne Meranus
This is a one-piece gym suit was first worn in 1935 by the donor’s mother, Beatrice Falk, when she attended Walton High School in New York City. The gym suit was passed down to her daughter, Dianne Rosborne Meranus, who used it as a physical education uniform while attending Bronx High School of Science, 1957-1961. The sweat stains on the garment are evidence of its use. The gym suit is a romper, which functions similarly to overalls: it must be pulled up from the bottom and buttoned on the top at the shoulders.
Look B: Kelly green bathing suit
Designed by Marshall Field and Co., Chicago IL
Gift of Beulah Blackmore
During the 1920s, women’s bathing suits were often made of knitted wool, and were becoming brighter in color and shorter in length—showing more skin and ultimately giving women more agency over their bodies. Marshall Field’s was an important department store in the Midwest, and well known for selling bathing suits during this time. The bathing suit was donated by Professor Beulah Blackmore, who served in many roles at Cornell, including founding the CF+TC in 1915 and later the Department Head of the Textiles and Clothing Department in 1925. While we cannot know if Blackmore wore this bathing suit or not, we do know that she embraced first wave feminism and the idea of women liberating themselves and wearing more revealing swimsuits (and clothing in general).
Look C: Green suit with leopard collar
Green suit with leopard collar
Worn by Gretchen Harris’ grandmother on her wedding day
Unknown designer, United States
Gift of Gretchen Harris
Animal skins have long been a staple in fashionable dress until the emergence of synthetic fibers and fur substitutes in the mid-20th century. Even during wartime, furs provided an alternative to wool fabrics that were required for military uniforms. During WWII and shortly thereafter, pinup girls like Bettie Paige wore leopard print garments for photo shoots. Everyday American women followed suit, sending photos of themselves in leopard prints to their sweethearts to hold as mementos during wartime. Since then, leopard furs and imitation prints have become a staple of modern female iconography, symbolizing sexuality. During WWII, rationing of materials introduced a new simplicity in women's clothing style: billowing sleeves, large cuffs, hoods, wide skirts and long jackets were restricted. The donor's grandmother wore this suit for her wartime wedding in 1944. Although the skirt has no lining and its unfinished seams are visible from inside the garment, the coat has a clean lining, angled pockets, and beautiful covered buttons. The hourglass silhouette is contrasted by masculine details like padded shoulders. The suit is simple yet empowers the wearer through the decorative use of leopard fur.
Look D: Balenciaga military green ensemble
Worn by Mrs. Rockefeller
Designed by Balenciaga, France
Gift of Mr. & Mrs. Myron Gershberg
The three-piece military green ensemble was designed by Balenciaga in the early 1960s. The Spanish-born designer, Cristóbal Balenciaga Eizaguirre, was considered “the supreme architect of twentieth-century fashion” and was mostly known for his bold abstracted looks and exquisite tailoring. He was also involved in developing the fabric, gazar (a stiff, yet lightweight material), which allowed him to create more sculptural and architectural volumes that stood away from the body’s outline. This, in contrast to Christian Dior’s popular cinched waist and flared skirts, made Balenciaga’s more simple designs stand out: Balenciaga ultimately dominated sixties fashion. This minimalist ideal is also reflected in the twill coat and skirt, which uses few seams, allowing the garment to fall from the body more naturally. This ensemble was worn by Margaretta Large "Happy" Rockefeller when she was the First Lady of New York to Governor Nelson Rockefeller (May 4, 1963 – December 18, 1973). Rockefeller’s style was known to be inspired by the “Ivy League look,” a preppy, classic, and tailored style that was popular in the early 1960s.
Look E: Givenchy emerald green and black striped suit
Designed by Givenchy
CF+TC # 1995.07.003
Givenchy Nouvelle Boutique is Givenchy’s first ready-to-wear line, which began in 1968. This power suit is from the 1980s and uses design elements of form, line, and color to convey confidence, courage, and the ongoing effort of women to break the glass ceiling.
Look F: Green velveteen pants suit
Worn by Helen O’Brien Cyryan
Designed by Giorgio and sold by Fred Hayman, Los Angeles
Gift of Helen O’Brien Cyryan
This emerald green velveteen suit was sold by Fred Hayman’s Los Angeles-based retailer that sold the brand Giorgio. Giorgio garments are known for their femininity and opulence, especially during the brand’s peak in the 1980s. This particular suit, while being small in size, is otherwise decidedly masculine: double breasted with strong shoulders. As the date of this garment places it only several years after the label’s founding, its departure from Giorgio’s signature style was perhaps due to its aesthetic-in-process. One article published about Fred Hayman’s death specifically mentions his wardrobe featuring double-breasted suits, which were also prominently featured in the label’s menswear collection (Rouke, 2016). This suggests that this style could have been initially a part of the menswear collection, or that menswear served as the inspiration for the women’s version. The suit was donated from the personal wardrobe of Helen O’Brien Cyryan and worn for a New Year’s holiday party.