Metropolitan Museum’s About Time: Fashion and Duration

Photos and Text by Eleanor Foa Dienstag

This is a less eccentric fashion exhibition than we are used to from the Met, and for that reason it is more relatable and enjoyable: a perfect antidote to Covid time. No screaming S & M outfits, just lots of basic black drawn primarily from the museum’s own collection of 19th and 20th century clothes, a time line that ties into the museum’s 150th anniversary celebration.

1870 American Mourning Dress (L) and(R) 1939 Elsa Schiaparelli Evening Dress

The only eccentric touch is the contrived narrative about “time,” employed to link and elevate the evolution and repetition of fashion with modern philosophy. It is Art Speak taken to an absurd level. But ignore the pretentious verbiage and enjoy the exhibition itself.  It is elegantly presented and fun to stroll through. An hour of pure pleasure during these days of high anxiety.  

1925 Jean Patou Dress (L) and (R) 2018 Libertine “Lingering Garden” Dress

A cousin of mine once pointed out that there are basically only two kinds of fashion silhouettes– clothes with a waist and clothes without a waist. Simple but true.  As this exhibition amply demonstrates these silhouettes wax and wane over the decades. The wasp-waist days of Dior’s “New Look” echoed the wasp-waist outfits of the 1870s. And the Twiggy days of the 1960s shift, echoed the dance-crazy Charleston days of the1920s and thirties. The materials may vary – from exquisite chiffon to man-made fibers – but fashion designers are students of their own history and draw liberally from the past to create clothes that appear “of the moment” but are often reworking and updating the ideas of the past.  

1927 Jeanne Lanvin Evening Dress (L) and (R) 2020 Jonathan Anderson Dress for Loew
1938 Elsa Schiaparelli Evening Jacket (L) and 1978 (R) Broken Mirrors Ensemble , Yves Saint Laurent
1947 Christian Dior (L) and 2011 Junya Watanabe (R)
1994 Issey Miyake “Flying Saucer” Dress (L) and 1930 Mariano Fortuny Y Madrazo “Delphos” Dress
2012 Iris Van Herpen Dress (L) and 1951 Charles James Ball Gown (R)

About Time: Fashion and Duration
Metropolitan Museum of Art
October 28 through February 7, 2021
 *A timed-entry exhibition ticket is required and must be purchased, separate from your ticket to the museum, on site. 

About Eleanor Foa Dienstag (36 Articles)
Eleanor Foa Dienstag is a veteran author, journalist, photo-journalist and award-winning corporate writer. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Harper's, the New Republic, the New York Observer, Ms., Travel & Leisure, and many other websites and publications. Eleanor is the author of three books. Her most recent, available on Amazon and Centro Primo Levi is MIXED MESSAGES: Reflections on an Italian Jewish Family and Exile. It is a multi-layered memoir about Eleanor’s personal journey, her father’s exile from Fascist Italy and the Foa Family journey, whose Italian-Jewish roots go back to the 1500s in northern Italy where her ancestors were famous printers. WHITHER THOU GOEST: The Story of an Uprooted Wife, also a memoir, was acclaimed by Business Week for its insights into corporate life. Her third book, In Good Company: 125 Years At The Heinz Table, offered a unique view of a quintessential American company. Eleanor served as staff speechwriter to the Chairman and CEO of American Express. In 1983, she founded Eleanor Foa Associates ( It provides a wide variety of corporate writing and marketing services. Eleanor is past president of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA), received speechwriting awards from IABC, and was awarded literary residencies at Yaddo, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (VCCA). She resides in Manhattan.