A Visit To The Met’s “In America: A Lexicon Of Fashion” – Juliet Sturge ’23

Past the Egyptian art gallery and through the Sackler Wing, which houses the Temple of Dandur, in the basement of the Metropolication Museum of Art on 5th Avenue is the Costume Institute’s In America: A Lexicon of Fashion exhibition. The yearly exhibit presents an array of their collection on various themes in fashion. The current exhibit compiles about 100 pieces from various American artists from the 1940s up until now. It was my first time visiting the exhibit that is funded by the Met Gala each year. I found the whole experience to be very engaging and worthwhile, the theme was much more well articulated in the show than it was on the red carpet at the gala last year. 

It was a pleasant surprise to pass Perry Ellis’ 1978-79 fall/winter ensemble that features a design inspired by Princeton University cheerleaders. The runway show itself in 1978 featured the actual Princeton cheerleading team and the quarterback of the football team. What the Met described as “preppy insouciance” captured the collegiate fashion image that I had imagined as the caricature of Princeton students before I ever visited. Further than just the Princeton connection, the show presents dozens of juxtapositions of contemporary artists being inspired by artists of the past and organizes pieces into 12 emotional qualities: Nostalgia, Belonging, Delight, Joy, Wonder, Affinity, Confidence, Strength, Desire, Assurance, Comfort, and Consciousness. 

While my exposure to fashion design is very limited, I have always had an affinity for textiles as an art form. Seeing the wide range of silhouettes, fabrics, and designs made the exhibit resonate in the same way an oil painting or sculpture would. The rows of mannequins fit inside well lit boxes felt slightly dystopian, or at least futuristic, but was a powerful way to display timeless designs and their contemporary counterparts. The exhibit’s commentary on the American political landscape and history was exemplified by Ralph Lauren’s iconic American flag knit sweaters being juxtaposed with designs from Tremaine Emory for Denim Tears and Willy Chavarria, which address the experience of Black Americans and issues of immigration respectively with plays on the classic flag design. The entire exhibition is worth seeing, and I am looking forward to going to see the second part of the exhibition, In America: An Anthology of Fashion, which opens at the beginning of May.