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90 Years of Chicago Style: A Look Back at the Nation’s Oldest Continuous Charity Fashion Show

The Woman’s Board of Rush University Medical Center celebrates in style this month.

A 1927 photo—likely staged—shows four Woman’s Board members planning the inaugural show.   Photo: (Board members) Chicago Daily News Negatives Collection, Chicago History Museum

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.

1930s model and ads
Photos: (model) Chicago History Museum/Paul Stone-Raymor, Ltd.; (programs) Courtesy of the Rush University Medical Center

1930s

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.”

 

1940s models and ad
 Photos: Courtesy of the Rush University Medical Center

1940s

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.

 

1950s dress and program
Photos: (dress) Chicago History Museum; (program) Courtesy of the Rush University Medical Center

1950s

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.”

 

1960s dress and programs
Photos: (dress) Chicago History Museum; (programs) Courtesy of the Rush University Medical Center

1960s

For years, Marshall Field’s provided clothes for a culminating bridal scene. This 1967 dress features a matching Givenchy cape.

 

The 1975 show
Photo: Courtesy of the Rush University Medical Center

1970s

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.”

Today

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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