Often times, fashion is a big part of museums, but it can also be controversial. Some people argue that it is not necessary for a museum to have a theme, while others say that a museum should have a theme and be open to interpretation. In any case, it is important to keep in mind the importance of interpreting art and culture.
Considering that fashion is a transient phenomenon, it’s no surprise that the history of fashion in museums is a topic of considerable interest. For instance, fashion exhibitions have been around for the better part of a century. Until the 1980’s, it was not uncommon to see a fashion show only once a year. However, in the last few decades, the number of fashion exhibitions has exploded, with three of the top ten most visited shows at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art happening within the past decade. Moreover, a number of high profile museums such as the Victoria and Albert and Brooklyn Museum have jumped on the bandwagon, displaying pieces from major clothing institutions.
Although fashion and art are not mutually exclusive, the connection between the two is often blurred. For example, the tame dress might be a product of the Renaissance, but its high-end couture counterpart is the work of Art Deco masters. During the same period, women’s fashion took on the broad-shouldered silhouette seen in many of today’s most memorable dresses. On the other hand, men’s fashion has continued a trend of informal, functional attire.
Hundreds of thousands of objects are represented in the Costume Institute at The Met, a museum in New York. Fashion is a multi-trillion dollar industry, driven by the global footprint of capitalism, religious and political influences, and utilitarian needs. Despite its vast collection, the Costume Institute at The Met omits many historical artifacts.
During the past few decades, the field of fashion scholarship has grown. In addition to creating scholarly catalogues and presenting free public programming, MFIT has also reached audiences through exhibitions. The MFIT museum is a half-century old.
A current exhibit, Fearless Fashion: Rudi Gernreich, presents body-positive designs from the designer. This is one of several contemporary fashion exhibits that MFIT has hosted.
The Fashion Institute of Technology has helped shape the genre of scholarly exhibitions on dress. Throughout the past 50 years, MFIT has hosted more than 200 exhibitions. These exhibitions have been curated by in-house curators and students. Currently, MFIT is concurrently running the “Fabric in Fashion” exhibition.
Keeping clothing in museums requires special care. While the general principles of conservation are similar to those for art objects, the process and results of cleaning and storing textiles differ greatly from other materials. Among other things, textiles may react to water and may contain chemicals used during the production or finishing processes.
The best way to keep clothing in museums for years to come is to display them in an appropriate environment. Light plays a significant role in fading, discoloration, and deterioration. It is important to minimize exposure to light by displaying items in the dark and placing them in a vacuum-sealed container.
In addition, museum staff should take steps to prevent insect infestations. They should monitor incoming textiles for signs of insect activity and quarantine them. In some cases, freezing an infested garment can eliminate insects. In other cases, the use of ozone is an effective and safe means of destroying insects.
Historically, fashion has been a part of museums. As a result of changing trends, fashion has entered the space of existing museums. This shift has created new fashion museums. In the past few decades, new fashion museums have been built as fashion trends increased. Some of these have aimed to focus on the allure of fashion, while others have positioned it in the context of other arts.
As the twentieth century progressed, attitudes toward showing fashionable garments changed in Europe and the United States. Male museum staff viewed dress as vulgar commerciality. They saw it as ephemeral and frivolous, and as a product of the textile industry.
In the 1950s, women became involved in the decision-making process at museums. They began to see fashion as a part of everyday life, a way to construct a fashionable identity. They constructed this identity by joining a “elite” crowd.
Eventually, these groups questioned the ontology of the museum. They suggested that clothing reflected the place in which it was manufactured, who wore it, and how it was designed.