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Modern Ritual: The Art of Mary McFadden

May 11, 2024 to October 11, 2024

dress with elaborate beaded pattern on mannequin

Drexel University pays tribute to the "Modern Ritual" of fashion icon Mary McFadden with an exhibition that celebrates the incredible influence of the American designer.

Modern Ritual: The Art of Mary McFadden places her work in the context of her artistry and technique, highlighting methods that include her signature Marii pleating, one-of-a-kind hand-painted textiles, and opulent beading and embellishment.

The exhibition draws heavily from the primary materials of the Mary McFadden Archive at Drexel University, creating an immersive experience and allowing for a greater understanding of this unconventional designer. Approximately 40 mannequins will be on view, donning some of McFadden’s most intricately crafted gowns, coats and separates, alongside a rich array of ephemera, including design drawings and personal papers.

Throughout her heyday, McFadden’s works appeared on the most influential and stylish American women. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis wore one of her Marii pleated column gowns to the 1976 opening of The Glory of Russian Costume at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In a 1983 letter, Gloria Steinem wrote to McFadden:

"Thanks to a friend who gave me the gift of one of your classic pleated dresses, I’ve just come from your showroom where I indulged myself by buying two....And after seeing your showroom, I’d like to move in.”

It was often said that McFadden was her own best model, and she was frequently photographed wearing her own designs, becoming her own best spokesperson. 


  • The exhibition is open and free to the public.
  • Operating hours are Tuesday through Friday 12-5 p.m. Please call 215-895-2319 in advance to coordinate your visit.
  • Visitations are available on Saturdays between 12-5 p.m. by appointment only. Please email to schedule your visit.