The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute is back with part two of this year’s flagship exhibition “In America” with “An Anthology of Fashion,” and the new iteration of the show is an even more expansive look at what has defined American fashion over the years. It is a visually splendid tour through hundreds of years of this country’s history told through clothes designed and worn by its citizens.
Building on last year’s spartan, intellectually rigorous presentation of garments categorized by the expression of various themes, this year’s show explodes across most of the American Wing of the museum. To help guide your visit to the blockbuster exhibition here are five things you’ll want to look out for.
1. Don’t miss the powerful garments at the start of the show
When visitors enter the exhibition, they’ll immediately encounter three especially significant garments: a coat worn by George Washington (possibly to his inauguration), the Brooks Brothers jacket that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in and a coat (also designed by Brooks Brothers) that was once part of a uniform worn by an enslaved man. (Lincoln’s coat is missing some pieces that were given away to mourners at the time.)
2. The exhibition has a much more cinematic quality—thanks to famous directors
Part one of the “In America” exhibition, which debuted last year, had a far more linguistic focus thanks to its framework: “A Lexicon of Fashion.” For this anthological expression of the exhibition, the garments are presented with some narrative. In fact, the 13 period rooms that make up the show are all staged with daring wit and dramatic panache by some of America’s most famous directors: Tom Ford, Radha Blank, Janicza Bravo, Sofia Coppola, Autumn de Wilde, Julie Dash, Regina King, Martin Scorsese, and Chloé Zhao.
3. Be sure to spend some time in the Panorama Room staged by Tom Ford
Even without a special exhibition, one of the most striking sections of the Met’s American Wing is the Vanderlyn Panorama room which showcases the immersive-before-it-was-cool “Panoramic View of the Palace and Gardens of Versailles” (1818-19) by John Vanderlyn. Now, the circular space has been transformed by Tom Ford to invoke an epic battle between American and French designers. (It references an actual event: a fundraiser for Versailles which took place in 1973.) As a result, designs from both countries swirl around one another in a dramatic vortex.
4. Keep an eye out for small historic details in the rooms
Not surprisingly, with the eye of so many famous directors behind the various stagings, there are plenty of small, attention-worthy details that can be found throughout the period room scenes. Don’t miss the text bubbles floating above the mannequins’ heads in the Baltimore Dining Room which reprint contemporary American gossip about the socialite Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, the eerily levitating figure in the Shaker Retiring Room that is meant to portray Shaker leader Mother Ann Lee or the guest in the Rococo Revival Parlor wearing a dress that was once worn to John F. Kennedy’s inauguration.
5. There’s a social justice subtext
In an exhibition that depicts so many years of American history, there are bound to be nods to the country’s progressive tradition. One powerful example of that can be found in The Haverhill Room where director Radha Blank has responded to a wedding dress by Maria Hollander—an early American designer to engage with social justice and creator of a pro-abolition quilt in 1853—with the words “We good, thx!” The message, according to the director’s statement, is Blank’s way of centering “Black Women, often uncredited as cultural weavers of the fabric of this country,” and letting them “speak through our OWN quilt.”