University of Minnesota
University of Minnesota
School of Architecture College of Design


Dior to Disco:
Fashion in the Era of Second Wave Feminism


June 15-September 29, 2019



Goldstein Museum of Design, Gallery 241, McNeal Hall, St. Paul campus


Curators: Jean McElvain and Caren Oberg


Social movements do not have a start date and end date as much as a period when they come into and out of public awareness. This exhibition examines the second wave feminist movement, and its relationship to the clothing women wore from 1947-1975. Christian Dior’s retrograde fashions of 1947, paradoxically referred to as “The New Look”, celebrated a traditional pre-war femininity that women eagerly strove to emulate. While Dior was re-establishing the fashion industry in postwar France, French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir was writing her 1949 seminal feminist text, The Second Sex. For many, this critical review of women’s social position marked the start of the women’s movement.

For many people in the United States, Betty Friedan’s 1963 book, The Feminine Mystique, was a watershed moment in the formation of second-wave feminism. Simultaneously heralded for bringing issues of gender equity to the masses and criticized for situating gender inequity as the exclusive problem of middle-class white women, Friedan’s version of feminism questioned women’s roles and the happy housewife archetype. This reductive narrative, however, did not give credence to the complexities of the movement; feminists sought equality for women by challenging social and political norms around sex discrimination in employment, reproductive rights, rights for women of color, lesbian rights, childcare, equal treatment of women in public spaces, and sexual objectification.

Women of the second wave era reinvented themselves through eclectic styles that included t-shirts and jeans, natural hair, mod bobs, Chanel suits, mini-skirts, and maxi dresses. Whether you considered yourself a feminist or not, women of the second wave era engaged in a great diversity of styles that embraced personal power. From the controlled styles of Dior’s New Look to the tight-knit pantsuits of the disco era, women were stepping out in ways that they never had before.

Press Release









Contact Information

Goldstein Museum of Design

364 McNeal Hall,

1985 Buford Ave, St. Paul, MN 55108

P: 612-624-7434 |

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