Last Call on the Met's American Fashion Exhibit
It's last call on the Metropolitan Museum of Art's exhibit "American Women: Fashioning an American Identity", which closes August 15th. The exhibit was sponsored in part by Conde Nast (and also the Gap, although the only t-shirts on display are those that are for sale in the gift shop) and Vogue presided over the opening festivities back in May.
The exhibit breaks down American fashion history into ideals -- Gibson Girls, Bohemians, Screen Sirens. It covers 1890-1940, with a final room entirely devoid of fabric devoted to 1950-2010. I was entirely enjoying the exhibit (and even would have bought this 1895 sweater with gigot sleeves to wear this Fall, had it been available for purchase) if I hadn't gotten entirely annoyed by the wall text.
The exhibit wants to make the point that the clothes on display have great political meaning -- that fashion had a great deal to do with women's changing roles and increasing independence during that time in history. No doubt, women gained more freedom and women's fashion changed during that time, but the exhibit confuses effect with cause.
For instance, in the drabbest room of the exhibit, devoted to the Suffragists, the wall text explained that suffragists wore certain colors: purple, white and green, and then purple white and gold, which "forged a visibly shared public identity. The American women's adoption of these colors signified her identity and performance as a suffragist, as did her adoption of the latest fashion and accessories."
Really? So adopting the latest fashion and accessories is a political act? In the last panel of wall text, there's a concession that each of these fashion "ideals" were created by media and fashion companies in order to sell advertising, movies, and yes, clothing and accessories to the self-same women. I'm sure the Suffragists would have been most irritated if they could have known that in 2010, one of the nation's foremost cultural institutions would proclaim that a potent weapon in the struggle for the franchise was...shopping.
There's a good argument that can be made about women's fashion and politics. This just isn't one of them. But still, if you're in New York City this weekend, go see the exhibit before it closes. Just ignore the absurd wall text (and probably the audio tour narrated by Sarah Jessica Parker) and focus on all the lovely fashion.