Truman Capote’s “Black and White Dance”

Monday, June 19, 2017 by Lindsay Turley

During the winter and early spring of 2016, the Museum photographed and catalogued over 400 mid-century garments from our costumes and textile collection through our Dressing Room project, funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). A number of these garments will be featured in the Museum’s fall 2017 exhibition Mod New York: Fashion Takes a Trip. The availability of this digital content also primed the Museum to participate in the Google Cultural Institute’s We Wear Culture project, which brings together a selection of our costume holdings with that of over 180 other institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Victoria and Albert Museum, and Wadsworth Athenaeum Museum of Art.

As part of our partnership with the Google Cultural Institute, we created an online exhibition, featuring dresses from our collection which were worn to author Truman Capote’s legendary “Black and White Dance.” The exclusive invite-only event was held on November 28, 1966, at the Plaza Hotel.

Edmund Vincent Gillon. [Plaza Hotel], ca. 1978. Museum of the City of New York. 2013.3.2.2214.

While the event followed closely on the heels of Mr. Capote’s literary success of In Cold Blood, the party was presented in honor of Washington Post editor Katherine Graham. True to the name of the events, guests were instructed to dress in black and white.

Invitation to Truman Capote’s Black and White Dance, 1966. Museum of the City of New York. 66.113.1

The guest list was whittled down to a mere 540 invitees, including the likes of performer and producer Frank Sinatra, actress Mia Farrow, socialite and style icon Babe Paley, actress Candice Bergen, socialite and Harper’s Bazaar editor Gloria Guinness, and Jacqueline Kennedy’s younger sister Lee Radziwill. Many of these attendees were featured on “best dressed” lists throughout their lives. 

Strapless evening dress in black velvet with bunny mask worn by Candace Bergen, 1966. Halston (1932-1990)

Other attendees included philanthropist Brook Astor, patron of the avant-garde Isabel Eberstadt, and Women’s Wear Daily Columnist Carol Bjorkman. Elder sister and co-performer of Fred Astair, Adele Astair also attended, along with Katherine Sullivan Meehan, who was married to the head of the Good Humor Ice Cream Corporation. The designers included Halston, Jenkins, and James Galanos. Long-time New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham (1929-2016) designed one of the headdresses, and was an acclaimed haberdasher early in his career.

Mask in white and black-dyed coq feathers in the shape of intertwining swans, worn by Isabel Eberstadt, 1966. Bill Cunningham.

Please visit the Museum’s online exhibition hosted by the Google Cultural Institute, The Party of the Decade: Truman Capote’s Black and White Dance, to learn more about the party guests and their attire. You can also browse the Museum's other mid-century garment holdings online via the Museum’s Collections Portal or amongst collections from over 180 other contributors at We Wear Culture.

The work to digitize, conserve, and catalog mid-century women’s garments from our celebrated Costumes and Textiles Collection is supported by a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services’ Museums for America program.

By Lindsay Turley, Director of Collections

Lindsay Turley oversees projects involving the stewardship and access of the Museum's collections objects.

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