We wear clothes everyday (excluding, of course, nudists and the cast of the Jersey Shore). What we wear can comment on where we’re from, what our hobbies are, how badly we want this job, and just how lazy we’re feeling. While clothes have been an important part of human life for centuries, it seems that only recently that fashion has taken center stage when it comes to human-interest.

We care almost as much about the clothes an actress wears as the movies she makes. Fifteen year old high school students start fashion blogs. And wait… Omg! Kate Middleton walked outside wearing something!? QUICK! Get your camera!

The Duchess of Cambridge's wedding gown and slippers as seen on display at Buckinham Palace

Photo: Lewis Whyld/WPA Pool/ Getty Images

A sign of fashion’s place in our culture can be found in record numbers of museum patrons who line up to see fashionable special exhibits. In July, The Duchess of Cambridge’s (AKA Kate Middleton) wedding gown, accessories, and cake went on display at Buckingham Palace. More than 600,000 visitors have spent almost $30 a pop to see the future queen’s Alexander McQueen by Sarah Burton wedding frock. The previous record for annual visitors to Buckingham Palace was 420,000 in 1994. Kate single handedly broke this record by 180,000. Impressive. I might also mention that Alexander McQueen’s “Savage Beauty” exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City drew a total of 661,509 visitors in four months this summer.

Alexander McQueen dress seen in the Savage Beauty exhibit

Photo: Solve Sundsbo; Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Yale University Press

Adding to these summer fashion exhibits, is the Chicago History Museum’s “Charles James: Genius Deconstructed”.

Charles James is one of less than a handful of American designers to have done haute couture, and is known as America’s first couturier. He is famous for his ability to balance art with engineering, and his designs still marvel even today. James was born in 1906 in New York, he was kicked out of boarding school in 1919 for “sexual escapade”, and opened his first hat shop in 1926.

Cecil Beaton, Photograph of Charles James Govns, Vogue, 1948

Photo: http://pinsndls.wordpress.com

James became well known for his sculpted ball gowns that seemed to defy logic and physics. His designs often gave subtle winks to society – including the Four Leaf Clover, a ball gown with hot pink underskirts that only appeared when the wearer spun while dancing, when sitting, and when walking up stairs.

Ball gown by Charles James

Photo: http://fournierclothing.blogspot.com

At the Chicago History Museum you can see 15 of Charles James’s most iconic designs from 1928 through 1958, as well as x-ray images of bodices, hundreds of sketches, photographs and three reproductions of Charles James dresses that can be touched and lifted by visitors.

Of “Charles James: Genius Deconstructed”, CHM Curator Timothy Long said,  “The last couple of years of my life had been dedicated to this. James’s work is a mystery, but also a grand statement.”

“Charles James: Genius Deconstructed” opened October 22, and will be on view until April 16, 2012. More information can be found at http://media.modernluxury.com/chicago-charles-james-exhibition/

– Ann Erling Gofus

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