111 Garments that Changed the Course of Modern Fashion, According to MoMA

From Burberry to the burkini, the museum spotlights the cultural significance of clothing for the first time in seven decades.
MoMA Fashion Modern

Courtesy Martin Seck

When it comes to exhibiting clothing design, it is safe to say that the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has been fashionably late. So late, that more than 70 years have elapsed since the museum last mounted a garment-related exhibition. That show, curated by Bernard Rudofsky in 1944, aimed to prove that contemporary conventions of dress were “useless, impractical, irrational, harmful, and unbeautiful.” Among the items on view were a spats, collars, a corset, and a curious vignette titled the “Seven Veils of the Male Stomach.” It’s no wonder the exhibition’s working title was “The Problems of Clothing.”   

A new show opening at MoMA this Sunday picks up where Rudofsky left off. But rather than viewing dress as a problem, the show aims to situate clothing—and fashion more broadly—within a broader social and political context. For Items: Is Fashion Modern? curator Paola Antonelli and her team selected 111 garment and accessory typologies that have altered, or reflected, the course of modern society.  

MoMA Fashion Modern

One-Star Perfecto Leather Motorcycle Jacket, late 1950’s. Courtesy of Schott NYC

Viewers shouldn’t expect a Costume Institute-esque fashion fanfare: Items, according to Antonelli, is “first and foremost a design show that takes fashion as its focus. We wanted to communicate instantly that the exhibition is about the individual objects, not about names, not about styles—It’s about objects that stand in for whole periods, for whole issues.” As such, the 350 pieces Antonelli and her team selected (some of the 111 garments have multiple pieces/examples) range from the banal (Spanx, Lululemon yoga pants, a Patagonia fleece) to the fantastic (Issey Miyake’s A-POC, Elton John’s platform boots). 

MoMA Fashion Modern

Vivienne Westwood’s subversive mini kilt. Courtesy Martin Seck

Items crucially seeks to underscore how power structures affect the way we dress, and how fashions are perpetually appropriated and reinterpreted. Standout examples include bespoke ’90s-era monogrammed jackets from Dapper Dan’s boutique in Harlem, a minuscule Vivienne Westwood kilt, and a pair of Dr. Martens. Other selections in Items explicitly confront current-day politics, including a burkini, a Colin Kaepernick jersey, and occupying its own wall in a central gallery, a red Champion hoodie.

Said Antonelli, “We want people to come into the exhibition recognizing that anything they wear any time can be a symbol, and a symbol that is world-changing.”

Items: Is Fashion Modern? is on view at the Museum of Modern Art from October 1 through January 28, 2018. 

MoMA Fashion Modern

An ’80s-era Champion Hoodie is juxtaposed with a commissioned 2017 jumpsuit made by Richard Malone. Courtesy of Martin Seck

You may also enjoy, “Paola Antonelli on Her Upcoming MoMA Exhibition, “Items: Is Fashion Modern?” 

Categories: Arts + Culture, Design