Modernizing Fashion at MoMA

MoMA’s new exhibition ,Items: Is Fashion Modern?, features 111 key pieces of clothing that had an impact culturally and historically on the 20th and 21st centuries.

Fashion is forever personal, but it is also a shared experience. It is traceable and evolutionary, constantly growing, mutating and evolving into something new. So many things cause us to dress the way that we do, leaving fashion as a guidebook to the history of human life and of the human condition. The “Items: Is Fashion Modern?” exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art pushes each viewer to examine their own style of dress and think about its evolution.

The collection of items included some pieces that were purchased from brands and others that were borrowed from private collections. The ownership of each of the pieces highlights the overarching theme of fashion having a dual purpose of being personal and communal.

In this arrangement, garments made for the masses coexist with the garments made for an elite few. Along with chic and stunning garments, there are some completely ordinary pieces. They are a white t-shirt, blue jeans and sneakers on display. Even though these accessible items are not as detailed and sophisticated as the historic designer items, they are still imperative to the way that we dress. All of these pieces are equally relevant because they share influence on the world of fashion.

MoMA acknowledges that its 111 item list is not even close to reaching all cultures of fashion. The curators did their best to turn over every stone of fashion through the display of pieces along with small video screens that show more examples of each item and illustrate that item’s place in varying time periods.

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Against a black wall all by itself with one small spotlight was a red Champion hooded sweatshirt. While the first association one may find is to the athleisure trend, the description plaque related the hooded sweatshirt to the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012, and to the origin of streetwear which may be a trend now, but was not celebrated at its time.

The hooded sweatshirt, although something most of us tend to think very little of, has the ability to provoke discussion about dress as a way to say something about who you are and to allow people to make judgements about you.

MoMA asks viewers if fashion is modern — a question bigger than you may have thought. Is fashion truly modern if trends are seemingly cyclical? If one is attracted to clogs on display from 47 years ago, does that mean that the 1970s are modern and current style is repetition? And if that is true, is there anything modern about fashion in recent years?

Seeing pieces from the 1940s and realizing that they are still in style is jarring. It is a special and distinct feeling to know that some things are seemingly infinite. A Yves St. Laurent Le Smoking Suit inspired pure awe when I entered the exhibit. The silhouette and the creases of the blouse, although first designed nearly 80 years ago, are still true to their intended sophisticated brilliance.

This exhibit is undoubtedly worth visiting. The best part about this display is that there is something for everyone. The showcase is completely universal discussing the origin and reasoning behind everything we wear. It is hard to articulate how brilliant the collection is, but when you go, don’t just look — think about what pieces affect you and be sure to ask yourself why.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Oct. 11 print edition. Email Amanda Burkett at [email protected]

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