The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s exhibit, “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion,” had a lot to live up to, as the first exhibit back following the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Prior to seeing the exhibit, my friends and I waited to get into the museum outside in the rain for about an hour. We really only went to the Met to see this specific exhibit, so there was a lot of pressure for it to not only to exceed our expectations, but also make up for the fact that we were cold and wet from the storm we endured.

Before walking down the stairs that lead into the Anna Wintour Costume Center to see the full exhibit, we were greeted by several different mannequins adorned in quilted and denim patchwork. This matched the organizational piece of the exhibit, a patchwork quilt made by Adeline Harris from the Met’s American Wing collection. The exhibit’s description quotes Jesse Jackson’s 1984 Democratic National Convention speech:  “America is not like a blanket — one piece of unbroken cloth, the same color, the same texture, the same size. America is more like a quilt — many patches, many pieces, many colors, many sizes all woven and held together by a common thread.” 

According to its description, “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion” takes inspiration from Jackson’s comparison of patchwork to America “and its unique cultural identities.” 

Throughout the exhibit, this overarching theme could be seen by not only the garments displayed but also by who designed each one. The exhibit aimed to achieve defining American fashion by challenging what is most often thought of as American fashion — sportswear, principles of simplicity, practicality, functionality and egalitarianism. 

American fashion has traditionally lacked the type of emotional connection that European fashion invokes. As the title of the exhibit does include the word lexicon, this exhibit confronts the traditionally European emotional connection to fashion by matching every featured garment to an emotional sentiment in a uniquely American way. 

The garments are divided into different sections: “Nostalgia, Belonging, Delight, Joy, Wonder, Affinity, Confidence, Strength, Desire, Assurance, Comfort and Consciousness.” Several decades are represented in the exhibit, each individual ensemble representing sentiments within each of the aforementioned sections and the different ensembles exploring the various ideas of being American. 

The maze of garments range from subtle to garish as you embark on an emotional rollercoaster that utilizes American historical context to match each clothing article and feeling. 

When I first heard that the theme for the exhibit this year centered around American fashion, I expected Ralph Lauren, white shirts and blue jeans but was happily surprised that the exhibit broadened the idea of what American fashion really is.

The emotions each garment evoked throughout the exhibit gives attendees the opportunity to experience American fashion from a different perspective that is not often explored. I never realized how emotionally detached many people feel from what is considered to be American fashion, but this exhibit proves to be a chance to have a different outlook on fashion. 

Though not every piece represents nostalgia, each piece elicited that feeling from me. I felt as though I could identify a time or a place where each look could fit with its corresponding feeling and made me feel a connection to the piece because it truly altered my mood.  

Part One of the exhibit opened on Sept. 18 and will close on Sept. 5, 2022. Part Two: “In America: An Anthology of Fashion” will open May 5, 2022 and close on Sept. 5, 2022.


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