Oscar de la Renta and the Older Woman

Dress made for Annette de la Renta, 2005

Dress made for Annette de la Renta, 2005

The Oscar de la Renta fashion exhibit at the de Young Museum in San Francisco has one unusual element: perhaps half of the clothes on display came from the collections of contemporary women.  A good portion of these were red carpet dresses worn by celebrities, like Taylor Swift and Rihanna.  When I visited, that room was the most crowded.

Laura Bush’s inauguration coat from 2002, in front of a cotton dress

Laura Bush’s inauguration coat from 2002, in front of a cotton dress

However, there were also a significant number of clothes from the closets of important socialites, First Ladies, and fashion leaders, all wealthy women of a certain age.  These included a stunning fur collared coat owned by Anna Wintour, a sequined and embroidered ensemble for San Francisco socialite Ann Getty, and many dresses made for de la Renta’s wife, Annette. Some of my favorites were designed for First Lady Laura Bush, including her subtly embroidered cashmere coat worn on inauguration day, 2005.

The first room included some day looks, but the main focus of the exhibit was elaborate evening wear. The fabrics were sumptuous—hammered silks, brocades, velvet, lace.  On top of this elegant foundation often came piles of of embellishment, including elaborate beading, embroidery, feathers, and fur.  For de la Renta, elegance is obviously not refusal. This is a different kind of “power dressing” designed to broadcast wealth and social status at a glance.

Central Asian inspired ikat coat

Central Asian inspired ikat coat

Was there anything at the show I might have worn?  Even the “haute hippie” caftans from the 1960s were too elaborate for my Plain Jane style.  I wanted to remove the bejeweled collars and gold trim and just revel in the fabric. But if you forced my hand, I would take the Central Asian inspired ikat coat above.  I’d get rid of the pearls, make it shorter, and wear with something besides pale green silk pants.  As you can see, I am not an Oscar de la Renta kind of woman.  But I would take the fabric scraps from his workroom floor any day.

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7 Responses to Oscar de la Renta and the Older Woman

  1. Carol in Denver says:

    I think you and I may be cut from the same piece of cloth. I cherish pieces of brilliant hand-dyed silk in my stash but seldom make them into a garment to wear.

  2. eimear says:

    As a conservative dresser myself, I would make an exception for that gold bolero – in your link (and I don’t even wear gold!)

  3. Sheryl says:

    I would wear any of the outfits, and I’m definitely a woman “of a certain age.” I guess I’m surprised at how many women say they would not wear them, as they all look so flattering.

    • Lynn says:

      I think you are in good company! Many women would love to wear these clothes, old and young. They are just too fancy for me.

  4. Dana says:

    I would love to have a reason to make and wear such beautiful clothes.

  5. Lizzie says:

    My favorite First Lady look of all time is Laura Bush’s embroidered coat. It was lovely on her in 2005, and in person it really is a stunner.

  6. The Laura Bush white coat was lovely — I do wish they had supplied at least a photo of the dress designed to go under it. My memory goes back to to Richard Nixon bragging about his wife’s plain Republican “cloth coat.” The white wool coat — heavily hand embroidered white on white — was great example of how to dress like a millionaire’s wife without signaling “wealth” to the plebs. “Smart” woman in both senses of the word.

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