Fashion, costume and historical garb: Museum exhibits for every clotheshorse!

I could wander at length around most museums,  finding endless, personal, and silent entertainment in what is on view. Personally, a great collection or exhibit has the ability to both exhilarate and to exhaust the mind; the inspiration I glean is abundant and utterly gratifying in the most sublime of manners.

There happen to be an amazing array of fashion and historic costume-inspired exhibits that are currently on view, or are slated for dates within the next year. Keep on reading to discover a few of the gems that I am really excited about!

Pardon my haste... I have a date at the museum!
Pardon my haste… I have a date at the museum!

The Metropolitan Museum of Art almost always has some sort of costume exhibit, be it a retrospective for Alexander McQueen or a taste of mourning attire, from its origins to the height of its popularity. Even if you miss one of the big, annual exhibits, there is almost always some amazing costume or fashion on view at The Costume Institute. Additionally, the Met has a vast online collection, available to those who might not be able to make it into New York City.

Elaborate Embroidery

An embroidery example from the exhibit. Source.
An embroidery example from the exhibit. Source.

Heeled shoes, hosiery, intricately embroidered fabric, wigs… am I talking about ladies’ styles from the 1950s or 60s? Or an up-and-coming fashion designer? Nope, I’m referring to menswear trends prior to early-to-mid-eighteenth-century. Heavily-decorated floral designs were en vogue for the members of the upper class, despite their gender, and this exhibit focuses on embroidery samples for menswear between 1760 and 1815.

What: Fabrics (not outfits, but the handiwork on the fabric is artwork in and of itself) for menswear from the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Where: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, New York.

When: The exhibit runs through July 19th, 2015.

China: Through the Looking-Glass

Combining examples of Haute Couture, traditional Chinese garb and artifacts, along with cinematic vignettes, the Met’s Costume Institute and its Department of Asian Art partnered for what looks to be  a truly fascinating exhibit.

What: Avant-garde fashion apposed with traditional Chinese attire and artifacts — China’s long and perpetual influence on fashion and art.

Where: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, New York.

When: The exhibit runs through August 16th, 2015.

Inside Out: Revealing Clothing’s Hidden Secrets

Being a craftsperson of garments, I have a pretty good handle of what’s going on not just one the OUTside of a piece of clothing, but on the INside as well, although I have been known to dissect a piece of clothing or two to find out exactly what’s happening in its guts. Depending on the design, textiles, fit and purpose, it doesn’t just matter what a costume looks like from the average person’s vantage point, as the interior is half of what helps make the final product look the way it does.

What: Features both historic and couture garb — just what you don’t usually see!

Where: Kent State University Museum, Kent, Ohio.

When: Runs until February 14, 2016.

Fashion Victims: The Pleasures & Perils of Dress in the 19th Century

If there is ONE thing that I accomplish this summer, it will be getting up to Canada to see this exhibit. It looks positively amazing, plus it’s at a shoe museum. A SHOE museum! There is a good chance that once I visit, I may never want to leave…

What: The unhealthy and downright poisonous aspects of fashionable dress in the 1800s.

Where: The Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Ontario.

When: Runs through June 2016.

Opulent Art: 18th Century Dress from The Helen Larson Historic Fashion Collection

One of these years, I shall make it out to the West Coast of the US, and maybe, just maybe, I could find my way to the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) out in California. Probably not intake for what looks to be an intriguing exhibit, unfortunately, however. Opulent Art looks like it could be a nice complement to the aforementioned Elaborate Embroidery exhibit!

What: Extravagant duds and accessories from the 1700s, including a rare Figaro costume.

Where: Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising,  Los Angeles, CA.

When: Through July 4th, 2015.

World at War – Women at Work

J. Howard Miller's iconic work incentive poster, c. 1942.
J. Howard Miller’s iconic work incentive poster, c. 1942.

If you’re an Agent Carter fan, then this show should be right up your alley! Thanks to a collaboration between the State Historical Society of Missouri and the University of Missouri’s Textile and Apparel Management Department, World at War focuses on how women’s roles changed during the first and second World Wars. The exhibit includes propaganda, style and dress and advertisements from the early-to-mid part of the 20th century.

What: Women’s changing place in society and changes in fashion during World War I and World War II.

Where: Ellis Library, State Historical Society of Missouri Gallery Columbia, MO.

When: Runs through June 6, 2015.

Gothic to Goth: Romantic Era Dress and Its Legacy

An example of Romantic fashion. c. 1820. Source.
An example of Romantic fashion, c. 1820. Source.

How did we get to modern Gothic and Steampunk styles? It all started waaaaaay back in the 1800s during the Romantic Movement, and even before THAT, as writers and artists from  that time period looked back upon previous movements and historic eras for their inspiration. I shall need to pencil-in a trip up to Connecticut before July of next year to see this exhibit.

What: From the website:  ‘…the first exhibition to fully explore the Romantic Era as a formative period in costume history.’

Where: Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT.

When: Runs March 5, 2016–July 10, 2016.


This list really only scratches the surface of the many amazing and engaging exhibits in North America that  are available for your viewing pleasure. Do you plan on visiting, or have you already visited, any of these costume and fashion offerings? Is there a great exhibit you’d like to share with us? Go ahead and leave a comment below!

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