Clothes tell a story. Here at the Fine Arts Museums, our closets are filled with gowns, costumes, and accessories worn by countless cultural icons of days gone by. Today we give you a rare glimpse into our vaults as we reveal some of the most famous skeletons in our closet!
We don’t have any top hats, white ties or tails worn by the light-as-air Mr. Astaire, but we do have this bright red Chinese costume (with shoes!) that he wore in the “Limehouse Nights” sequence of MGM’s film Ziegfeld Follies, 1944.
One of the most well-known and accomplished woman painters of the nineteenth century, Rosa Bonheur is known especially for her depictions of animals. She obtained government permission to dress in male clothing in order to attend horse fairs and other events normally prohibited for women. This black velvet jacket ensemble (worn with a skirt rather than trousers) from her later years, is well known from portraits and includes her Legion of Honor rosette.
The evolution of the design for the costume worn by MGM star Cyd Charisse in the 1954 film Deep in My Heart can be seen here in its entirety. While the costume itself is housed in the Textiles department, the original design sketches by Helen Rose are contained in the collection of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts. The fitted, long-sleeved lace body suit and draped chiffon skirt are accompanied by a full-length royal blue velvet cape, lined with green satin.
Lillie Hitchcock Coit
Volunteer firefighter and benefactress of the Coit Tower, Lillie Hitchcock Coit was a true character. The Museums' collection houses several garments worn by this San Francisco legend. When she wasn’t following the fire brigade wearing her fire helmet, she was quite a fashionable Belle Époque matron. Perhaps the Museums' finest piece worn by Coit is this heavily decorated maroon velvet two-piece gown with matching muff by Charles Frederick Worth.
Loïe Fuller’s distinctive use of light and swirling fabric in her dance performances earned her international fame. Fuller was a close friend of Alma Spreckels, founder of the Legion of Honor, and introduced her to the sculptor Auguste Rodin. Fuller was known to equip her enormous silk skirts with rods, which she used to manipulate the fabric during her lively dances.
The Textile department also boasts several costumes worn by legendary Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova, including those for Giselle and The Dying Swan.
This evening gown designed by Adolfo was worn by Nancy Reagan at a White House dinner in honor of the President of Italy. It is ivory silk taffeta with an embroidered lace bodice and it is very small.