After more than a two-year absence, the Met Gala returns in 2021 to celebrate the opening of the brand-new Costume Institute exhibition, “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion.” Once again, one of the best museums in NYC will be dedicating a new exhibition to delving into the larger social and aesthetic context of a singular fashion theme. This time around that theme is American fashion. However, there are a number of things about the exhibition that are quite different than past Costume Institute shows. Here are five things you should know before heading to see “In America: A Lexicon of Fashion” for yourself.
1. This is only Part One of the exhibition
For the first time, this year’s Costume Institute exhibition is being divided into two separate parts. Part One, which opens on September 18, is located in the Anna Wintour Costume Center and uses the organizing principle of a patchwork quilt. Around 100 men’s and women’s ensembles (but mostly women’s) are on display and are organized into 12 sections exploring what the show is calling the “defining emotional qualities” of American fashion. Those sections are: “Nostalgia,” “Belonging,” “Delight,” “Joy,” “Wonder,” “Affinity,” “Confidence,” “Strength,” “Desire,” “Assurance,” “Comfort,” and “Consciousness.” Wondering which category a garment belongs to? Don’t worry, you’ll know. Giant word bubbles located above each dress are pretty clear on the matter.
2. It’s a lot smaller than you’re probably expecting
If you’re accustomed to seeing the blockbuster fashion exhibitions of the Met’s past, this show might come as a bit of a surprise. It’s mainly located in one, relatively small room and features various dresses, simply located in plain white boxes. The exhibition is a lot less theatrical than past outings, but the simplicity provides a rather pleasant interactive experience with nothing much separating you from the clothes. If you’re looking for more, stay tuned for Part Two of the show which will open in May and be accompanied by, you guessed it, another Met Gala to celebrate the additional displays.
3. It takes the “Lexicon” concept seriously
In addition to the aforementioned “word bubbles,” the exhibition is largely focused on the words and concepts employed to categorize American fashion. It’s as much about the clothing as it is about the language and ideas used to describe it. Part Two of the exhibition, which will be staged in the American Wing, will focus more on the stories and narratives surrounding fashion related to the U.S., and it will feature garments staged in the museum’s iconic period rooms.
4. There’s a lot of red, white and blue
You’re gonna see a lot of flags.
5. There are standout pieces even in this smaller show
One of the cool things about Part One of the “In America” exhibition is that since it will be on view for a full year, the garments on display will be changed and moved around over time. As a result, you’ll want to swing by to check out a few stand-out items that are currently on display for the exhibition’s opening including a plaid silk taffeta ball gown by Christopher John Rogers, a mermaid dress by Claude Kameni and a panniered dress of deadstock fabric by Hillary Taymour for Collina Strada. Overall, the show will have you thinking about what America represents as a country and an ideal as much as how it’s defined by the fashion most closely associated with it.