The work of couturier Charles James is among the most prized collections within the holdings of The Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection. His work is based on a concept that there a limited number of shapes and silhouettes but countless versions on them. He may not be well known to most people. But, his work remains a hallmark of high style. This Four Leaf Clover Ball Gown was created as a modern take on an 1860's silhouette by having updated how this shape was engineered without steel wires.

The work of couturier Charles James is among the most prized collections within the holdings of The Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection. His work is based on a concept that there a limited number of shapes and silhouettes but countless versions on them. He may not be well known to most people. But, his work remains a hallmark of high style. This Four Leaf Clover Ball Gown was created as a modern take on an 1860’s silhouette by having updated how this shape was engineered without steel wires.

Reviewing fashion exhibits at museums is one of the most pleasurable experiences I can think of. For me, it’s a learning experience and a fun way to learn about people’s values, tastes, lifestyles, and about craftsmanship, all in one.  The newest such exhibit to take San Francisco by storm is one such exhibit, aptly named, “High Style.” In the first two days of the exhibit’s opening, I have reviewed the collection twice and contemplated the influence of high style on us.

The masterworks of fine apparel presently at the Legion of Honor, along with the exhibit’s even more extensive catalogue, are borne of a unique collaboration.  The Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection teamed up with the Metropolitan Museum of Art to continue preserving of one of the most important fashion collections in the United States.

Pictured with me is curator Jan Reeder of The Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection. She brought this High Style exhibition to fruition, and is more knowledgable about fashion from a historical perspective than almost anyone I've met.

Pictured with me is curator Jan Reeder of The Brooklyn Museum Costume Collection. She brought this High Style exhibition to fruition, and is more knowledgable about fashion from a historical perspective than almost anyone I’ve met.

A thorough review of the Brooklyn’s costume holdings, conducted by curator Jan Reeder, revealed the need to pool resources with another institution with similar values.  This most unusual move proves that the influence of high style on us as a culture is far greater than the ego of any one museum.

This unprecedented move is as significant as the collection itself.  The influence of high style on society can continue to evolve because we now have these archives to return to for inspiration.  Fashion designers are continuously looking to the past to find what may work in the present moment. We actually see quite a bit of this in the exhibit, thanks to how well organized and curated it is.

Close up detail of this Liberty, Ltd. fashion shows the influence of high style on producing gorgeous and rare textiles and special flourishes to make a standout garment .

Close up detail of this Liberty, Ltd. fashion shows the influence of high style on producing gorgeous and rare textiles and special flourishes to make a standout garment .

As one strolls through the exhibit, the craftsmanship is truly something to behold with the eyes.  Fewer and fewer clothes are made today as they once were, especially during the era covered in the exhibit.  But, the attention to detail, the sewing, the embroidery, the patternmaking, the use of fabrics, draping, and precise tailoring are all in evidence.

High style has a through line from the late 18th century to the present.  High style surely goes much further back, but was reserved for royalty.  This timeframe marks a democratized era for high style.  Being rich has always helped one to dress in high style.  The clothes on view in this exhibit were certainly worn by well-to-do women.  That these women dressed this way, and that we appreciate the sense of style shows that the influence of high style on us continues.  At times we want to emulate those who came before us, just as they wanted to emulate royalty in some form or fashion, as it were.

This collection of American designers featured in the High Style exhibit represents a level of craftsmanship that is rare among American designers today. Seeing such garments up close only makes the onlooker long for a return to this level of quality.

This collection of American designers featured in the High Style exhibit represents a level of craftsmanship that is rare among American designers today. Seeing such garments up close only makes the onlooker long for a return to this level of quality.

Pictured in this post are photographs of several of my favorite examples from the exhibit.  I hope that you get to take a look at the collection in person.

If you happen to have a group interested in seeing this exhibit, I’d be happy to arrange a walking tour of the collection together.  To see even more photographs from the exhibit, check out my Facebook page posting.

Joseph Rosenfeld helps successful Silicon Valley technology entrepreneurs and executives discover their personal brands and design their personal styles.  Get Joseph’s free report that helps you know “7 Ways to Transform Your Personal Style”.