The Met Museum has opened part two of its Costume Institute Exhibit “In America: An Anthology of Fashion.” The exhibit kicked off with the return of the Met Gala to its annual timeslot, the first Monday in May. While part one of the exhibit was held strictly in The Costume Institute, part two saw both updates to about half the displays in the institute wing and made use of The American Wing.
The wing now houses an exhibit featuring American fashion in the period rooms dating back to the colonial period and presidencies of the 19th century. Notably, there was a Brooks Brother coat worn by Abraham Lincoln, a dress worn by his wife and former First Lady, Mary Todd Lincoln, and one of George Washington’s original military outfits. The rooms feature around 100 examples of men’s and women’s dresses from the 19th to the mid-late 20th century.
## The Met debuts part two of its “In America” Costume Institute fashion exhibit
The rooms capture a century of domestic life and reveal stories from those periods. Dimly lit rooms featured vignettes depicting everyday scenes from that time, from women enjoying an afternoon at home to late evenings by candlelight. In the spirit of trying to transport viewers to that era, many of these period rooms were dimly lit by faux candles to recreate the feeling of what daily tasks were like for these people. We will certainly never take electricity for granted as just a modern convenience after this.
In the American Wing, there were also pieces from arguably unsung designers of the 19th century including Clare Potter, Helen Cookman, and Vera Maxwell. While these designers don’t have the household name status of more modern designers like Halston or Oscar de la Renta, they were groundbreaking for the role of American fashion in the industry.
Clare Potter was one of the earliest participants of famed department store Lord & Taylor’s “American Fashion for Women Campaign” joining in 1933. Her designs contributed to the emergence of American sportswear. Lord & Taylor added Cookman to this same campaign in 1934, where she became renowned for incorporating menswear into her designs. Vera Maxwell became well known for her World War II designs that catered to blue-collar women, including her “Rosie the Riveter” Coveralls.
The piece-de-resistance of the exhibit is an amphitheater-style room featuring mannequins in sword fights and half dance battle with each other, with designers including Bill Blass, Anne Klein, and Stephen Burrows. Is it fashion, or is it theatre? Costume Institute Curator Andrew Bolton has provided us with both.
Further diversifying the designers represented in the exhibit, there is an entire room dedicated to Indigenous designers and fashion originating from various Native American tribes. While Indigenous design often faces appropriation, these were true pieces from the culture. Indigenous designers are the first American designers, after all.
The main Costume Institute wing switched out about 50 percent of the displays to include new designers. A$AP Rocky’s patchwork coat from the 2022 Met Gala designed by ERL designer Eli Russell Linnetz is now on display. A dress representing unity by Jonathan Cohen made from blue viscose silk embroidered with crystals is now on display when viewers make their way down the first flight of stairs.
When viewers make their way to the bottom of the stairs, a giant ballgown from Off-White designed by the late Virgil Abloh greets them. Other new designers included in the exhibit include Ashlyn, Margaret Roach Wheeler, Batsheva, Adolfo, Vaquera, Frankie Welch, Ji Won Choi, Evan Ducharme, Jamie Okuma, Rudi Gernreich, and Giorgio di Sant’Angelo.
“In America: An Anthology of Fashion” will stay open alongside “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion” until September 5. The annual Met Gala fundraises the budget for the The Met Costume Institute exhibit.