Over the course of 90 years, the Woman’s Board of Rush University Medical Center has raised more than $32 million for the hospital’s charities with its annual fashion show spotlighting clothing from local boutiques and global powerhouses. In addition to being a philanthropic force, the show is also a barometer of Chicago’s ever-changing fashion trends. Ahead of this year’s event, which benefits the hospital’s Road Home Program for veterans and their families, Chicago History Museum costume curator Petra Slinkard walks us through several decades of the show’s high couture.
The show began as a lunchtime event at the Stevens Hotel (now the Chicago Hilton). “The 1930s was a period of transitional dress,” says Slinkard. “You can still see remnants of the flapper style.”
In lieu of professional models, the show has long featured civic players and their children, styled as mini adults. This decade, wartime fabric rations meant a focus on hats, gloves, and other small accessories.
This Charles James dress—worn in the 1952 show—features jet-black tulle and bugle beads hiding pink, yellow, and orange tulle. “If you moved, you’d get these splashes of bright color underneath.”
For years, Marshall Field’s provided clothes for a culminating bridal scene. This 1967 dress features a matching Givenchy cape.
In the ’70s, American runway shows, Rush’s included, shifted away from models walking single file. “There was a convivial atmosphere. They created fashion tableaux.”
This year’s show will be October 13 at 5:30 p.m. at Soldier Field’s United Club. $125 to $450. thefashionshow.org
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