REVIEW- MoMA: Is Fashion Modern?


The Museum of Modern Art is currently housing a new fashion exhibit that explores the inspiration for expression of identity and the sites wherewith those expressions are interpreted. From now until January 28, the MoMA is displaying pieces of fashion history in their exhibit called Items: Is Fashion Modern?

Evolution of the Little Black Dress from (left to right) Coco Chanel (1925-1927), Charles Creed (1942), Christian Dior (1950), Hubert de Givenchy (1968), Arnold Scaasi (1966).

Photo from MoMA

The concept of the exhibition is that clothing can hold significance in the past, present, and future. A pearl necklace, sports jerseys, and a leather jacket show so much more about a person than the material covering their skin. Each item has a detailed history of its significance that explores how it came to hold the meaning and longevity that it has today. The history of fashion has long been studied on how it reflects on society and what it tells us of that zeitgeist. Without the free moving sportswear of Coco Chanel, women would be stuck in corsets. Without the burkini, people would not try to understand the facets of a religion and its place in society. Without headphones, technology and its appearance would be stagnant.

The exhibit offers reflection on how clothing can hold meaning and become a cultural phenomenon. Unlike many fashion exhibits, it follows the impact of high fashion and the ordinary Levi 501s, examining how fashion is not just runways and Saks Fifth Avenue. Mass market consumers hold importance in fashion. If a trend or a item cannot be translated to the average person, it will not saturate the market. It will not enable the average person to express themselves in what is deemed a culturally appropriate way. Fashion is more than lookbooks, it is about what someone and anyone wears. The exhibition explains this throughout with examples of everyday garments that are overlooked because of their prevalence rather than their importance. Flannels gained traction because of loggers and backpacks became a staple because of American education but both blend into the movement of society. We take for granted what their invention has given us in functionality and identity.

Converse All Stars (c 1950)

Photo from Biel Parklee

As much as there are plain white t shirts and berets, there are pieces that will geek any high fashion fan. There is a Versace dress made iconic by Elizabeth Hurley and a kilt made by Vivienne Westwood and modeled by Kate Moss. There are sights for a fashion history buff from the YSL Le Smoking to a silk scarf by Hermès from 1960. But, if you are looking for another Manus x Machina, this exhibit may not be for you.

If you have the opportunity to visit the exhibit, I highly recommend it. Not just because I go to fashion school and I am a history nerd. This was one of the first exhibits where I saw people with little interest in fashion walk through all one hundred and eleven items. Most fashion exhibitions that I go to have tourists saying how Rei Kawakubo's clothes are ugly (which is both the point/not the point). They do not see the significance of what clothing can truly hold. The recognition of these pieces by anybody builds the appeal of the exhibit to anybody. People will always care about what they wear and this exhibition makes you think a little bit harder about that.

Berets, leather jackets, ski masks, keffiyehs, leather pants, headphones, surgical masks, baseball hats, and puffer jackets.

Photo from WGSN

Megan Conover