Through eight case studies, a Steinhardt costume studies exhibition explores the concepts of luxury and authenticity in the fashion industry.

NYU Steinhardt’s Costume Studies MA Program's exhibition "Gray Area: Authenticity, Value, and Subversion in Fashion."

The opening reception for NYU Steinhardt’s Costume Studies MA Program's exhibition "Gray Area: Authenticity, Value, and Subversion in Fashion," took place at 80WSE on Wednesday, January 16, 2018.


In the late 19th century, authentic French goods were so highly coveted that women smuggled items into the United States by concealing them within their undergarments. Today, sneakers co-opting brand elements from Nike and Newport are going for up to $9,999 on the resale market. And advances in artificial intelligence are helping to separate fake handbags from their authentic luxury counterparts with 99.1% accuracy. These are just a few case studies under examination in Gray Area: Authenticity, Value, and Subversion in Fashion, an exhibition by Steinhardt's Costume Studies master's students exploring the way value is assigned in the fashion industry. Get a taste of the exhibition (on view through February 2)—and the labyrinthe history of labor, manufacturing, and authorship in fashion—below.


Exhibit showcasing "Hollywood and the Home Sewer."

During the Great Depression, Americans turned to Hollywood to escape the realities of their daily lives, realizing their fantasies through the glitz and glamor of on screen starlets and their clothes. Butterick, “The World’s First Name in Sewing Patterns,” offered sewing patterns that were direct reproductions of genuine movie costumes, while competitor company Hollywood Patterns sold unlicensed patterns inspired by actresses’—such as Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn—outfits on and off screen. 

“At the time, Butterick claimed that they were the only company that had the rights to reproduce these gowns. Hollywood Pattern company would sometimes work with costume designers to simplify iconic looks, such as the Scarlett O'Hara dresses from Gone With The Wind. The home-sewer herself could recreate these looks with fabrics and finishings of her own choosing and look like the stars while still being able to wear that look to the supermarket,” said co-curator Brian Centrone.  

Exhibit showcasing "What's in a Name?" exhibition with Stetson Hats container.

The famed Stetson hat, made iconic in part by John Wayne, has become a symbol of the American West and an in-demand accessory for visitors and locals alike. Stetson’s original cowboy hat, the Boss of the Plains, has undergone several transformations but Stetson has maintained its esteemed reputation, inspiring a number of copycats.

“I visited a hat shop in my hometown in Arizona and I learned that Stetson and their competitor are made at the same factory in Texas. So they're basically the same hat. We're in a period in fashion where people are looking at the heritage of brands, but I think the Stetson is still the most authentic hat,” said co-curator Marisa Lujan.  


In English dictionaries, “jewelry” is often synonymous with the luxury of precious metals and stones. However, most people would assign this classification to rings, necklaces, and earrings, regardless of their material worth. During the nineteen-sixties, the American costume jewelry designer Kenneth Jay Lane began to quickly redefine how fashionable women viewed these objects. Soon, magazine editors were pairing faux gems by Lane with designer dresses, and powerful women such as Barbara Bush and Diana Vreeland became ardent fans. Lane was unapologetically forthright about the fact that his works were often direct copies constructed out of artificial materials—going so far as to celebrate these attributes.

"Making a (Costume Jewelry) Statement exhibit with costume jewelry earrings on display.

Pink costume earrings on display at "Making a (Costume Jewelry) Statement case study.

“I was continuously surprised how often I could trace Kenneth Jay Lane earrings that are currently for sale, to images of seemingly identical, or at least very similar, pairs photographed for Vogue during the nineteen-sixties and nineteen-seventies,” said co-curator Madeleine Luckel.

Menthol 10s sneakers, inspired by Nike, Newport, and Menthol cigarettes, on display at Gray Area art exhibition.

These discontinued Menthol 10s sneakers—inspired by the similarities between Nike and Newport logos—have achieved such cult status in sneaker culture that a pair can sell for up to $9,999 on the resale market.


Crowd of people at Gray Area exhibition.

Learn more

about "Gray Area," on view at 80WSE through February 2.