Weaving Fashion into our Cultural Fabric

By: Amy Rosner

The history of fashion is being celebrated across the globe! Museums play a large role in incorporating fashion into our cultural history. In doing so, museums create large-scale exhibits which showcase monumental moments in fashion history.  Not only are museums elevating fabric and textiles to the status of art forms, but they are simultaneously sending a revolutionary message to the masses: fashion is a cultural artifact that demands to be historicized and preserved.

The Museum of Fine Arts’ Gender Bending Exhibit commemorates fashion that dismantles traditional gender binaries.  This highly politicized display showcases “a century of style that dares to break the rules” (mfa.org).  The exhibit consists of both American and European haute couture that has disrupted the rules governing gender and dress. Spanning from 1920’s fashions to the designs of present day, the MFA exhibit demonstrates the social and political progression of society. As individuals walk by displays of androgynous clothing and dress that celebrates the acceptance of the LGBTQ community, they are witnessing the progression of gender conventions over time. While shifting gender roles can be attributed to a wide variety of cultural factors, museums regard fashion as a vessel of social revolution.

Additionally, Phoenix Art Museum’s Ultracontemporary, showcases fashions that embody the fluidity of style in modern day culture. This multimedia exhibit includes the most innovative and futuristic designs in haute couture history. In doing so, the display comments upon important trends in contemporary society: how is fashion combined with technology, sustainability, and non-traditional art forms? How are high-end garments combined with commercial elements and streetwear?  The diversity of fashions in this exhibit parallel the diversity of 21’st century society. Furthermore, fashion functions as a testament to the heterogeneity of American culture.

Both of these exhibits reveal the conflation between history and fashion. Fashion is a critical piece of our country’s cultural fabric.  Moreover, groundbreaking designs are responsible for shaping social history, as well as displaying it. We commend museums for recognizing the storytelling capacities of designer garments: their existence constructs a powerful narrative about where we have been and more importantly, where we are heading.

Brian Zhao