Cristóbal Balenciaga, Spanish, Chemise dress, ca. 1957, Wool bouclé yarn twill weave; 98.7 cm (38 7/8 inches) (center back length), Museum purchase with funds from the Fine Arts Committee and Mary B. Jackson Fund 1997.83
When Balenciaga, a couturier known for elegant, perfectly tailored clothing, introduced a new silhouette in 1957, no one was prepared for the controversy it aroused. The chemise, or sack, as it was dubbed in the press, was a far cry from the narrow shoulders, tight waists, and full skirts popularized by Christian Dior in his 1947 New Look. Women who adopted the chemise were ridiculed in the press, and the style was condemned as unfeminine and ungainly. After a few seasons, however, the discord died down, and chemise styling filtered into the fashion mainstream. Balenciaga is considered by many designers and costume historians to be the most important couturier of the 1950s. This chemise represents both a pivotal moment in fashion and the perfection of line and cut that was Balenciaga’s trademark.