Does Fashion Belong in a Museum?

Is fashion belongs in a museum? Perhaps it should not be displayed in museums at all – and if it is, how do you put it on display there? I believe fashion does belong in a museum, but perhaps we should have different criteria for determining that. Maybe we should say fashion belongs in the belly of a whale!

When we examine the definition of fashion, we find that fashion is an abstract art form. Thus, I think we can classify it as “folk culture” rather than an “art form.” Certainly, fashion and clothes are part of everyday life, and some cultures have been very well dressed for thousands of years. However, what about cultures that have little or no literature, art, or other types of culture? Do those have a standard dress code, just a few basic clothes, and people walking down the street wearing whatever they happen to wear for the day?

In other words, when we examine fashion, we need to ask ourselves, “Where is this going? Where is this going to stop?” Is this the new fashions that are coming out of Paris and New York or is it the fashions of ancient Rome that are being brought back from the dead by resurrection cloth experts? Textile art has a long and interesting history, but it is now largely obsolete. We could do a lot worse than re-creating the latest fashion trends on a daily basis.

But let’s not forget about the clothes and accessories that we wear every day. Did you know that the word “fashy” actually meant “leisure” and that the term was created to describe fashions worn during leisure time? For instance, fancy slippers and fancy dresses were often referred to as “fashy” simply because they were worn while one was “leisurely”. The fashy look is a type of trendiness, but it is also considered to be a bit lazy and uncouth. In contrast, the traditional look is reserved for formal occasions and is usually reserved for working-class men who wore their clothes smartly.

Another reason why I think that fashion exhibits in museums should be limited to selected, limited-edition exhibits that serve an important purpose. Those reasons would include the need to conserve rare paintings or objects, the need to demonstrate the evolution of fashion over time, or the need to support selective artistic genres or types. These goals would naturally be in parallel with the general goals of good museum etiquette. For instance, a museum might limit the size of a textile work due to its importance or restrict the wearing of certain clothing styles, like slacks, because they are considered unacceptable for certain events.

Even if fashion exhibitions are occasionally held in museums, I believe that they should more often be limited to selected high-end exhibits. For example, the fine art and history museum in New York have had fashion exhibitions that exhibit works by male fashion designers, but these designers often dress in business suits and other business-like outfits when they are not participating in a fashion show. Even when they are, visitors to the museum are rarely exposed to the garments worn by the real designers.

Does fashion belong in a museum? In my opinion, it doesn’t. As mentioned earlier, there are many valid reasons why a museum might choose to exhibit popular or current fashions rather than more traditional ones. However, if the primary goal of your museum is to conserve art and other cultural artifacts, it is vital that you select the types of works that will gain most interest from visitors. That includes works of art and other cultural objects that are not commonly seen in customary fashion shows. You also need to ensure that the types of fashion that you choose to display will serve the purpose for which they were created and will endure the test of time.

By choosing to exhibit haute couture and other forms of fashion in a museum, you can be sure that your investment will be well received. Visitors to the museum will undoubtedly recognize many of the garments displayed. They will have a desire to own and wear them themselves. Your collection will become part of the city’s rich history and your investment will be enjoyed for many years to come. I believe that fashion belongs in a museum, and you should consider putting your collection of fashion garments in one.