Museums that showcase fashion give style-lovers more to look at than beautiful clothing and accessories. Many, if not all, of fashion exhibitions are organized around themes that resonate beyond what people wear, and serve as a barometer of cultural consciousness. Whether examining designers whose legacies have shaped the world of fashion, or trends such as sustainability and 3D-printing, which speak to the future of fashion’s landscape, fashion museums of New York can open your eyes to the role fashion plays in everyday lives, past, present, and future.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute
Perhaps New York City’s most prominent fashion collection, The Costume Institute at The Met hosts the famous Met Gala ball, where throngs of celebrities, fashion designers, and well-dressed elite descend upon Manhattan every spring to spotlight a major fashion trend. Additionally, The Costume Institute houses more than 35,000 costumes and accessories from over five continents and seven centuries. The steps of the Met are also legendary thanks to two fictional fashion lovers, Blair and Serena.
The Museum at The Fashion Institute of Technology
This museum may be small, but its archives are perhaps the most curated in the world—by fashion historian Valerie Steele, no less. In fact, this museum, which is located on the campus of The Fashion Institute of Technology, but open and free to the public, is the only museum in New York City dedicated solely to bringing fashion to museum lovers. The archives include 50,000 costumes, textiles, and all sorts of garments and accessories from the 18th century to present day.
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design
The Cooper Hewitt specializes in fashion, and is also home to exploring the historical significance of textiles. Exhibits feature fashion and design from all over the world, from as early as the 17th century. A lesser known-gem on the Upper East Side, this museum is a must for every fashion lover.
The Museum of the City of New York
As a museum dedicated to New Yorkers—including historical designers and the people who wore their garments—you will find a permanent Costume and Textiles Collection that’s home to approximately 26,000 garments and accessories from the late 17th century to the present. You will also find costumes that have been used in prominent New York theatre productions.
This museum offers rotating collections that often feature prominent garment collections and modern fashion photography. Additionally, the permanent collection features archived fashion and costume illustrations. Standout fashion exhibitions include retrospectives of designers from Jean Paul Gaultier to streetwear maven KAWS, as well as themed like collections like “Killer Heels: The Art of the High Heeled Shoe.” The venue also serves as a venue during New York Fashion Week, where some of the world’s most renown designers use the space as a runway.