Shoes and Birds, Fashion and Feathers at the NY Historical Society

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by Miriam Silverberg

Walk This Way

Shoes and Birds, Fashion and Feathers at the NY Historical SocietyAs a fashionista in good standing (forgive the pun), I love shoes.  So the new exhibit at the NY Historical Society was made to order for me.  Walk This Way:  Footwear from the Stuart Weitzman Collection of Historic Shoes is on view until October 8th.

It’s wonderful.  It explores how shoes have transcended their utilitarian purpose to become representations of culture— coveted as objects of desire, designed with artistic consideration and expressing complicated meanings of femininity, power and aspiration for women and men alike.  There are over 100 pairs of shoes from the iconic designer’s extensive private collection.  You see shoes ranging from designs made to be worn in a woman’s home, shoes that American suffragists wore marching through city streets, “sexy” heels reflecting norms of female aesthetics, and professional shoes suitable for the increasing numbers of women in the workforce.

Some of the highlights are shoes that have survived centuries to tell stories of the past such as a pair of pinksilk embroidered boudoir shoes created especially for the 1867 Paris Universal Exposition.  There are satin bridal shoes and baby shoes.  You see marvelous shoes from the 1920s, intricately beaded evening shoes with buttoned straps that kept shoes secure while women danced the Charleston.

The dawn of department stores at the turn of the 20th century gave us retailers competing for customers with colorful advertisements and celebrity endorsements.  Stores like Saks fifth Avenue offered glamorous shoes like red velvet and gold T-strap pumps (ca.1937) or peep-toe mules with clear Lucite flowered heels (mid-1950s).  There is so much to see but it’s all beautiful and glamorous and utterly glorious.  You must see this.

Birds, Fashion, and Feathers

Shoes and Birds, Fashion and Feathers at the NY Historical SocietyYou like fashion?  You like birds?  Then you’ll love the new exhibit at the NY Historical Society on birds, fashion, feathers and the rise of animal rights activism in honor of the landmark Migratory Bird Treaty Act centennial on view to July 15.  The exhibit examines the circumstances inspiring early environmental activists—many of them women and New Yorkers—who championed the protection of endangered birds.  We see bird- and plumage-embellished clothing and also original watercolors by John James Audubon of endangered birds before passage of the statute.  Feathers:  Fashion and the Fight for Wildlife commemorates the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act by delving into history and examining the economic and social circumstances that inspired the early environmentalists and activists who lobbied for this legislation.  NYC was the center of the country’s feather trade so we also see how the act affected our feather importers,hat manufacturers, retailers and fashion consumers.

I loved the first gallery with its exhibit of late 19th and early 20th century feathered fashions including hats, boas, fans, jewelry and clothes.  I loved the feathered hair ornaments, too.

The second gallery was more about the business of protective legislation, also interesting.  This is an exhibit well worth seeing.  Go soon because you may want to see it again before it closes in July.

Miriam Silverberg is a freelance journalist and owner of Miriam Silverberg Associates, a boutique publicity firm in Manhattan. She may be reached at



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