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‘Silver Screen to Mainstream’ Opens April 8


The Chicago History Museum’s spring exhibition “Silver Screen to Mainstream: American Fashion in the 1930s and ‘40s,” on display Monday April 8, 2019 through January 21, 2020, explores how a glamorous new American style emerged from the harsh realities of a tumultuous era.

Thirty ensembles from the Museum’s permanent collection trace Hollywood’s influence on American fashion. These garments illustrate how a distinctive American style emerged from Hollywood during an era that was bookended by the financial crash of 1929 and the devastation of World War II.

“Through the dark days of the Great Depression, Hollywood costume design inspired an enthusiastic response from American women, which gave birth to a new wave of American style,” said Virginia Heaven, guest curator and associate professor of fashion design at Columbia College Chicago.

Ensembles on-view, many for the first time ever, demonstrate the shift in influence from Paris to Hollywood. Haute couture from Paris is shown along with high-end custom-made attire from Chicago, New York and Hollywood. “Silver Screen to Mainstream” includes garments worn by Chicago women from Parisian designers such as Gabrielle Chanel, Madeleine Vionnet and Valentina, and Hollywood costume designers Adrian, Howard Greer, Irene and Omar Kiam.

“The exhibition highlights that it was not only the wealthy that cared about their appearance,” said Heaven. “Even the thriftiest could emulate a Hollywood starlet.”

Examples of home-dressmaking, catalog purchased pieces and middle-class clothing demonstrate how fashion for the masses was defined by thrift and elevated by celebrity style. Garments, text and archival images demonstrate how the emergence of man-made textiles and the zipper, that debuted in Chicago, provided greater versatility at a lower cost for middle-class women, which helped fashion a new American style.

The Costume Council of the Chicago History Museum presents a first look at the exhibition at the gala “Shall We Dance?” on Friday, April 5. The ballroom-dance inspired event includes curator-led tours of the exhibition and Hollywood-inspired libations. The event is co-chaired by Pamella Capitanini, Karen Peters, and Richard and Diane Weinberg. All proceeds benefit the Costume Council’s support of the Chicago History Museum.

Public tours are scheduled throughout the run of the exhibition and private group tours can be scheduled upon request. FashioNext, a teen fashion competition inspired by the exhibition will take place in the fall.

The exhibition opens Monday, April 8 to the public and. Museum members enjoy early access to the exhibition on Saturday, April 6 and Sunday, April 7. Admission to the exhibition is included with regular Museum admission ($19 adults/ $17 seniors and students, and free for children 12 years of age and younger and Illinois residents 18 years and younger).

The exhibition is sponsored by the Costume Council of the Chicago History Museum with Liz Stiffel as Presenting Sponsor.


The Chicago History Museum is situated on ancestral homelands of the Potawatomi people, who cared for the land until forced out by non-Native settlers. Established in 1856, the Museum is now at 1601 N. Clark Street in Lincoln Park, its third location. As a major museum and research center for Chicago and U.S. history, the Chicago History Museum strives to be a destination for learning, inspiration and civic engagement. Through dynamic exhibitions, tours, publications, special events and programming, the Museum connects people to Chicago’s history and to each other. To share Chicago stories, the Museum collects and preserves millions of artifacts, documents, images and other items that are relevant to the city’s history. The Museum gratefully acknowledges the support of the Chicago Park District on behalf of the people of Chicago. 

Chicago History Museum Sharing Chicago Stories