The fashion world carries with it many of the same pretenses of the art world, but for most people, clothing still remains a necessity rather than a true art form. This is, in part, because fashion is an applied art. Art is often seen as extraneous. Music, paintings, and film are consumed or displayed in homes and galleries, but they don’t have a concrete value in our daily living. Clothing, on the other hand, is a necessity to protect us against the environment. But just as practical crafts like pottery started as a way to serve our practical needs and has since become a form of art, so can fashion.
This is a notion that’s finding its footing in museums and galleries throughout the world. The Savage Beauty exhibit was introduced at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2011, and it’s become one of the top ten most-visited exhibits at the Met, putting it in the company of Picasso and the Mona Lisa. Featuring clothing by designer Alexander McQueen, this show took works of art typically viewed on the catwalk and brought them to a more traditional museum habitat. The Met now hosts its own Costume Institute, and they’ve since brought on legendary fashion journalist (and Vogue editor-in-chief) Anna Wintour to further blur the line between high fashion and high art.
The Met isn’t the only museum treating fashion more seriously. In fact, many are beginning to push the boundaries of what fashion can be and creating highly specialized exhibits. The Museum of Fine Art in Boston has introduced a #techstyle exhibit exploring fashion that’s inspired by modern technology. Many of the products on display at this exhibit have moved well beyond the notion that clothing is meant to be worn, providing pieces that are highly impractical. And this exhibit is delving deep into cutting edge processes for designing art by displaying pieces made from technologies like 3D printing.
And while the notion of showing fashion in museums isn’t new (such exhibits go back as far as the mid-1940s), they are seeing a greater role in the spotlight. As with anything, art is a mutable thing, and it won’t be received the same way by everyone. We have yet to reach the point where anyone can objectively say which clothing is “art” and which isn’t, but that’s just the way of things in the art world. Regardless, a move towards the legitimization of fashion as an art form is a promising sign looking forward.