In 1981, Ronald Reagan, took office as President of the United States, bringing with him his glamorous wife Nancy and trickle-down economics. This theory – championing tax breaks for the wealthy elite — assumed that they would be able to spread more of their wealth to other businesses, thereby increasing the wealth of all. This appeared to be effective on the surface and cast a golden light on the decade, which created the most conspicuous consumption in decades. The economic blossoming during the Reagan years made affluence not only socially acceptable, but also intensely desirable and even admirable. With this surge of wealth came the rise of excess. After a decline during the late 1960s and 70s, haute couture made a comeback in the early part of the 1980s with emphasis on exquisitely crafted suits, dresses, and eveningwear. Garments became vibrantly patterned and colored, and were ornamented with embroidery, beading, and opulent appliqué. Though the financial status of the nation seemed bright, an enormous gap sprang up between the wealthy and those of lower economic classes, creating a society of “haves” and “have-nots.” Tension and economic strain, caused by the decline of the savings and loan industry and issues of financial liquidity, continued to heighten, causing the nation to spiral into recession as it entered the 1990s.
The Kent State University Museum, founded in 1982, has an extensive collection of garments from the 1980s. A selection of this collection is in this exhibition. The museum is especially grateful for the support of the Ohio Arts Council in a sustainability grant. We would like to thank
Victoria Haworth, Senior Merchandising Major in the Shannon Rodgers and Jerry Silverman School of Fashion Design and Merchandising who served as co-curator.
Jean L. Druesedow, Director
Kent State University Museum