Every time I worry that we are, in fact, in the end times (trying to remember if those wackaloons have bred their red heifer yet, and then beginning, ridiculously, to wonder what exactly would be the best thing to wear to the Apocalypse — certainly it would need a lot of pockets, and of course if you are facing the Apocalypse surely you wouldn't care about eventual lung cancer, but could use asbestos cloth … and would red be too matchy-matchy?) I remember that, even if we are rapidly approaching the time of Peak Everything; there are consolations; even if the world is running down, we can make the best of what's still around.
Like, for instance, the Internets. Which lets me, with the click of several buttons, browse through an exhibit from the Met back in 2002 — Blithe Spirit: The Windsor Set, and see the dresses of another time when some had it that there was no use planning for the next year, much less the next decade; a time when they were going to party like it's 1939.
It always surprises me that mere electrons can manage to carry such treasures to me through wires and waves; treasures nearly as ephemeral as those electrons. How improbable, how ridiculous! What petite main in Vionnet's studio would believe it, if she were told that some American woman would, seventy years in the future, look at this dress–basically over the telephone? She'd stick you with a pin, and tell you to stop wasting her time. The woman for whom this dress was made would snort — she'd believe that in a year, maybe two, her dress would be hopelessly out of style, and not worth anyone's attention.
This dress is black silk satin and black silk net, with sequins. (A dress made of wet toilet paper would probably be less fragile.) And yet — it's still here. Its maker is gone; its wearer is gone; every man who guided it through a foxtrot, long gone: but it's still here. Still here, and since it's in a museum, safe and protected from everything from excess humidity to violent video games, likely to continue to be here, and through various generosities and some very clever engineering, we can up our brass periscopes outside our daily concerns and just, for a moment, look at it.
It might be taken (black birds, so ill-omened!) as a memento mori, but it might also be taken as kind of defiant monument: if something so delicate could abide through such terrible history, why shouldn't we? I'd like to call this a reverse Ozymandias; no "look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!" but instead, a quiet invitation to rejoice.