Charles James (American, born Great Britain, 1906–1978)
silk, synthetic, metal
Purchase, Friends of the Costume Institute Gifts, 2013
Not on view
Like the metamorphosis from caterpillar to shimmering butterfly, the woman who wriggles into the narrow body of this gown assumes the enchantment of a winged beauty. For the effect, James exaggerated the torso length of the sheath with “the highest bustline in 125 years” and layered transparent tulle in unexpected colors to accrue depth of tone and iridescent shimmer to the surrogate wings. The owner of this dress purchased it at Lord & Taylor for $1,250, the equivalent of $12,000 today. It was, according to her recollection, surprisingly comfortable to wear despite its eight-pound weight and posterior amplitude.