09/16/2010 09:27 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Fashion Week: New Designs With Historic Inspirations (SLIDESHOW)

By Abby Tannenbaum of the New York Public Library

As Fashion Week debuted in its new Lincoln Center home last week, fashionistas and wannabes across New York--and the country--got their first glimpses of the spring 2011 collections from established and up-and-coming designers.

Several themes--some complementary, some contradictory--have emerged over the past week. Color appeared from every inch of the spectrum, from white (the "new" black) to electric oranges and blues to muted neutrals to, of course, black (the old black, that is). Patterns popped up in a few unexpected places, including a series of bold geometrics from Diane von Furstenberg. Florals made an appearance too, conjuring lush gardens and--on Carolina Herrera's stage--hearkening back to botanical prints of past centuries.

Although many designers mentioned particular influences--from Dust Bowl photos to African and Asian culture--it's interesting to take a close-up look at a handful of dresses to see what creative seeds might be behind the glamorous silhouettes.

The New York Public Library has vast resources on fashion and costumes. One particularly useful (and sometimes amusing) volume is the late 19th-century survey The History of the Feminine Costume of the World from the Year 5318 B.C. to Our Century, which includes sections devoted to China, Japan, Egypt, Persia, India, Greece, Rome, and the Americas. Other illuminating references are The Grammar of Ornament and the Library's collections of plant and flower studies.

The following slide show pairs potential sources of inspiration from NYPL's Digital Gallery with designs from Fashion Week's spring 2011 collections.

Learn more about resources on costume and fashion history at NYPL.

Read about NYPL's upcoming exhibition On Stage in Fashion: Design for Theater, Opera, and Dance at the Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center.