Jump to content
Accessible version main page
Iparművészeti Múzeum Talking map

 The exhibition entitled Dress Code: Art Nouveau provides a glimpse into the wardrobe and lifestyle of women living at the turn of the 20th century through selected items from the Museum of Applied Arts’ Textile and Apparel Collection. By presenting the contemporary clothing and accessories, we conjure up the new, ethereal feminine ideal created by Art Nouveau, which included not just women’s appearance, but also their education.

The exhibition presents three major units: the more modest daytime and weekday apparel; the glittering garments for the evening and special events; and the up-to-date clothing suited to the new lifestyle focused on sport, education, and work.

At the turn of the century, women continued to cling to the use of the corset, since the rules of decorum stated that a proper lady could not be seen outside the home without one. The corset did not only serve to slim the waist, but also indicated the beginning of adulthood for girls. However, Art Nouveau brought a close to the pomp of the 19th century in terms of dress and launched the rational, functionalist fashion of the 20th century. Before the outbreak of the First World War, female clothing gradually became looser and more comfortable, since the new active everyday lifestyle of work and sport demanded a simpler and more relaxed appearance.

During the 19th century, the attire suited to distinct situations was strictly differentiated. In addition to clothing for the home, they had special apparel for receiving guests, taking tea, and dining, not to mention the dresses worn at social engagements, in the salons, or on the esplanades.

The range of Art Nouveau forms can be observed in accessories such as gloves, fans, handbags, and parasols in particular. Frills and bows were replaced by beaded and sequined decorations, rich embroidery, Art Nouveau trims that could be purchased by the yard, and plenty of lace. The new style placed an emphasis on floral ornaments and the supple beauty of the female body. In addition to the favorite flowers of Art Nouveau, such as splendid irises, poppies, dandelions, tulips, lilies, and daffodils, animals from the deep sea, soaring birds, and tiny insects also appear. Garments and accessories were strewn with abundant floral tendrils, twisting stems, and leaves.

Sports came into vogue and soon became an important stage for social life in addition to gala events. Cycling was widespread and was for the most part linked to the emancipation of women. The same is true for tennis, which was a fashionable activity even in the countryside, as can be read in Margit Kaffka’s novel Colors and Years.

Wearing trousers was only allowed for women while playing sports, or on the stage in the case of actresses. The idea that culottes should be daytime apparel caused a public outcry. For example, ladies wearing culottes were subject to catcalls on the Kossuth Lajos Street promenade in 1911. In addition, the contemporary bathing suits also seemed indecent to women accustomed to the corset and crinoline. Proper ladies did not appear in public in bathing suits, and they wore stockings with them until 1925. Because of this, they had changing cabins on wheels pulled into the water so they could hide from curious onlookers, and when on the beach they covered themselves in large bathing robes and later with so-called sunbathing shirts.

Noémi Csepregi, Curator

Title of page when printing: