The definition of a power suit has undeniably undergone a transformation. The New York Times writes that “
once upon a time, power dressing was identified with the uniform of the ruling class, whether demarcated by gender or profession or race, and those who would have access to it
.” Today, people suit up — ironically — when it suits them; and we’ve witnessed women’s suits in particular eb and flow in style, popularity and prominence as the times change.
Drexel University's Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection (FHCC) of the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design will showcase the many revolving styles of women’s suits with its next exhibition Suit Yourself! 75 Years of Powerful Style Friday, opening Oct. 11 through Thursday, March 13.
The exhibition will feature elegant ensembles crafted by Gilbert Adrian in the 1940s; iconic Chanel suits embraced by the working women of the 1950s – and reinvented by Karl Lagerfeld. Pantsuits of the 1970s will be on display with a contemporary update by Argent alongside pieces from the “pioneer of power dressing” Giorgio Armani. Alexander McQueen’s masterful Savile Row tailoring will be represented alongside many other celebrated designers.
Day Suit, Armani, Italy, 1987, gift of Sally C. Bleznak.
“From the power suit to the pantsuit – these garments have been the cornerstone of the modern wardrobe for over a century,” said Clare Sauro, curator of the Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection. “Intrinsically linked to feminine strength and autonomy, the suit has changed with the times, adapting to serve the needs of women who appreciated its sleek functionality.”
The FHCC is heralded as a "world-class collection of fashion and textiles" by the Wall Street Journal. Drexel founder and philanthropist Anthony J. Drexel believed that the study of art and design was essential to a well-rounded education and specifically set aside significant funds for the purchase of art and artifacts. In 2016 the FHCC received more than 700 ensembles and thousands of related materials from the James G. Galanos Foundation, creating the James G. Galanos Archive at Drexel University.
Skirt Suit, Chanel, France, 1959, a Gift from the Estate of Mrs. Charlotte Dorrance Wright.
The FHCC spans several hundred years and contains works by many of the most celebrated designers of the past, such as Christian Dior, Charles James and Elsa Schiaparelli. It has significant holdings from rare and significant designers, such as the renowned Parisian couture house Callot Soeurs.
The Robert and Penny Fox Historic Costume Collection Gallery is open to the public Monday through Friday 9 a.m.– 3 p.m. in the URBN Center (3501 Market St.).