Judging by its invitation, this costume party was an event not to be missed. Hosted by architect Spencer Fullerton Weaver, it was likely attended by a glamorous and bohemian crowd.
I certainly would not turn down a party promising a “crazy costume dance.” I would, however, hesitate on what to wear. With Halloween approaching, I looked to the Archives’ collections for costume inspiration.
For starters, why not go as an artist?
In this photograph, William Merrit Chase dons the accoutrement of an academic painter. Chase was well regarded for his impressionist paintings, but his career as an art instructor also impacted generations of young, aspiring artists.
In 1898, he founded the Chase School of Art, now known as Parsons The New School of Design (yes, the Parsons of fashion fame).
To transform yourself into an acclaimed artiste, you’ll need a white smock, palette and brushes, and pince-nez.
Make it work!
Charles Sheeler and Marsden Hartley studied under Chase during the early 20th century. Both artists were significant American modernists, although you wouldn’t be able to tell by these costumes!
Sheeler’s paintings and photographs conveyed modernity with stark and precise renderings of industry. In 1927, the Ford Motor Company hired him to photograph their cutting edge River Rouge factory in Dearborn, Michigan. But in this photograph, Sheeler ditches a Ford Model A and opts to take a horse and buggy to a Victorian-themed costume party.
Requirements for Victorian revelers: petticoats and corsets for the women; top hats and frock coats for men. Bonus points for arriving in a horse and buggy.
The Arabian Prince
Marsden Hartley was a peregrinating painter who spent time in Maine, New Mexico and Western Europe. Although he never made it to the Middle East, he wore this Arabian Nights costume to a Society Arts Ball in Paris.
To resemble Sinbad the Sailor, you’ll need: beads, Hammer Pants, and a flair for the dramatic.
In this snapshot of painter Jackson Pollock harkens yet another time and place: the Wild West.
When this photo was taken, Wyoming-born Pollock was just a teenager, but his independent personality was evident. By the late 1940s, he was notorious for both his poured paintings and his volatile personal life.
To become a lonesome cowboy, you’ll need a cowboy hat and boots, toy rifle, and rugged swagger.
If you would like more glam than grit in your costume, look no further than two of the glitziest artists in our collections, The Rhinestone Cowboy and Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney.
Folk artist Loy Bowlin is best known as the Original Rhinestone Cowboy. This look was not a costume, but the outfit he would wear any day of the week. Boylin, standing on his porch in Mississippi, bejeweled his clothes, house, and even his Cadillac.
To pull this off, you’ll need to invest in a serious Bedazzler, but the efforts will pay off when you sparkle on the dance floor.
Artist and founder of the Whitney Museum of American Art, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney embodies free-spirited glamour. A sculptor in her own right, she also patronized many of the leading and emerging American artists of the early 20th century. She also had a talent for accessorizing beautiful dresses.
In order to achieve that artsy Vanderbilt look, you’ll need lots of flair: feathers, tiaras, broaches, and gems. A Bedazzler wouldn’t hurt for this one either.
Happy Halloween from the Archives of American Art!
Mary Savig is a curatorial assistant at the Archives of American Art.