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MARCH 18 – JULY 24, 2017

Visitor Information Location


The museum is located at the corner of 21st and G streets, NW, four blocks from the Foggy BottomGWU Metro Station (Blue, Orange, and Silver lines). For directions and parking information, visit

Support from members and donors is the driving force that allows the museum to continue its work bringing art, history, and culture alive for the GW community and the public. To join or renew a current membership, or to make a donation, visit, call 202-994-5579, or stop by the front desk.

Hours Monday: 11 AM–5 PM Wednesday–Thursday: 11 AM–7 PM Friday: 11 AM–5 PM Saturday: 10 AM–5 PM Sunday: 1–5 PM Closed Tuesdays and university holidays.

Admission $8 suggested donation for non-members. Free for museum members, children, and current GW students, faculty, and staff.

Textile Library

The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum 701 21st Street, NW, Washington, DC 20052 202-994-5200  | @GWTextileMuseum TextileMuseum GWMuseum

Located on the museum’s fourth floor, the Arthur D. Jenkins Library is open Wed–Thu 1–4 pm and by appointment. Please contact the librarian before your visit at

Museum Shop Visit the shop for unique jewelry, home décor, books, and gifts from Washington, D.C., and around the world. To place an order for shipment, contact 202-833-1285 or

Cover: Givenchy by Alexander McQueen (France), evening dress, haute couture, fall/winter 1997-98. Synthetic raffia mounted on silk gauze. Appeared in The Jazz Age of Fashions. Photo courtesy of Johnson Publishing Company, LLC.

This exhibition was developed by the Chicago History Museum, in cooperation with Johnson Publishing Company, LLC, presented by the Costume Council of the Chicago History Museum, and toured by International Arts & Artists, Washington, DC.

Exhibition Program Highlights For a complete list of programs with


descriptions, or to register for a program,

Ebony Fashion Fair and the European Connection

visit or call 202-994-7394. Highlights Tours Free tours of this exhibition are offered Saturdays and Sundays at 1:30 PM. To schedule a private tour for a group of six to forty people, call 202-994-5578 at least four weeks in advance. LECTURE

A Sartorial and Sociological Study of Stephen Burrows Thursday, April 13, 12 PM Tanya Myers, fashion and textile professional Free; no reservations required FILM

Ebony Presents the John H. Johnson Interview Thursday, April 20, 12 PM (94 minutes) Free; no reservations required GALLERY TALK

20th-Century Italian Designers and the Ebony Fashion Fair Thursday, April 27, 12 PM Tanya Williams Wetenhall, GW assistant professor of design COMMUNITY DISCUSSION

Memories of Ebony Fashion Fair in D.C. Saturday, April 29, 2 PM Moderated by Audrey Smaltz, Ebony Fashion Fair commentator (1970–77) A collaboration with the Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum Free, but registration is required FAMILY DAY

Children’s Ball Saturday, May 13 10 AM–12 PM and 1–3 PM $10/members; $15/public (entrance for one adult and one child)

Thursday May 18, 6 PM Shayla Simpson, former Ebony Fashion Fair model, commentator, and buyer A collaboration with the Embassy of France and the Embassy of Italy as part of the European Month of Culture $10/members; $15/public LECTURE

African-American Dress and the Will to Adorn Wednesday, May 24, 6 PM Diana Baird N’Diaye, curator and cultural heritage specialist, Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage $10/members; $15/public FILM

Versailles ’73: American Runway Revolution Thursday, May 25, 12 PM (91 minutes) Free; no reservations required GALLERY TALK

Hanae Mori Evening Dress and Kimono Coat Thursday, June 8, 12 PM Lee Talbot, curator Free; no reservations required LECTURE

Behind the Scenes of Inspiring Beauty Thursday, June 15, 6 PM Joy L. Bivins, director of curatorial affairs, Chicago History Museum $10/members; $15/public

Curator Tour: Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair Saturday, June 17, 11 AM Joy L. Bivins, director of curatorial affairs, Chicago History Museum, and Camille Ann Brewer, curator of contemporary art Free, but registration is required WORKSHOP

Fashion from Paper Thursday, June 29, 12 PM Free, but registration is required

Left:1984-85. Ebony Fashion Fair program cover, 1984-85. Photo courtesy of Johnson Publishing Company, LLC. All rights reserved. Right: Vivienne Westwood (United Kingdom), ball gown, special order, fall/winter 2002-03. Silk ribbon taffeta with hand-silkscreened print. Appeared in Simply Spectacular. Photo courtesy of Johnson Publishing Company, LLC.


or fifty years, Ebony Fashion Fair brought the world’s most exclusive fashions to black audiences nationwide. A spectacle of glamour

and performance, the traveling fashion show grew out of the pages of Ebony, the best-selling magazine of Chicago’s Johnson Publishing Company, which was founded by John H. Johnson. Similar to the publication, the fashion event presented audiences with transformative images of beautiful and successful

African Americans.

Going to the Fashion Fair People waited all year for the excitement and extravagance of the Ebony Fashion Fair. Set to music and announced by a commentator, the two-hour performances included day wear, evening wear, swimwear, and a bridal finale. Each season brought a new fashion theme to eager audiences in the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean.

Mrs. Johnson’s Fashion Fair In 1963, Mrs. Eunice Johnson, wife of John H. Johnson, became director of the Ebony Fashion Fair. Her new title gave her the freedom to bring innovative fashion to audiences and make the traveling show her own. For each show, she handpicked garments to create a fashion fantasy that included fine fabrics, bold colors, and ensembles to show off shapely models. Without question, the show was the realization of her vision, but she shaped it with a keen understanding of what her audience wanted and enjoyed seeing.

Left: Eunice Johnson at work, 1970. Photo courtesy of Johnson Publishing Company, LLC. Right: Tilmann Grawe (France), cocktail dress, special order, fall/winter 2003-04. Silk chiné taffeta, horn, plastic and glass beads, horsehair tubing, plastic boning. Appeared in Living It Up. Photo courtesy of Johnson Publishing Company, LLC.

Style With Substance From New Orleans to New York, local organizations sponsored every stop on the Fashion Fair tour. Sororities, fraternities, lodges, and social groups hosted the event to raise funds for important causes, such as health care and education. Fashion was the vehicle, but philanthropy was the star of the show.

Workin’ the Runway

While audience members clamored to

Fashion Fair models didn’t just walk the

see the show’s bold, cutting-edge

runway. They dazzled audiences with their

fashions, many were as well-dressed as

twirls and high steps and embodied the

the runway models. Attendees made it

drama for which the event was known. Show

a point to wear their finery to the annual

organizers recruited touring models through

social event. The society pages of local

the pages of Ebony and Jet, extending

newspapers heavily covered the shows,

an open invitation, with height and size

reporting details of the stylish ensembles

requirements, to women and men across

both on and off the runway.

the country. If an applicant’s photograph piqued the producers’ interest, she or he flew to Chicago to audition. Each year, ten to twelve models, many unknown within the industry, traveled to dozens of venues to show off the world’s finest apparel. The showmanship and performance skills gained on the Fashion Fair runway provided perfect training for young people interested in modeling and entertainment careers, such as icons Pat Cleveland, Richard Roundtree, and B. Smith.

Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair  

Guide to the George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum's exhibition (March 18 through July 24, 2017)

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