Best NYC museums for fashion lovers
Fashion lovers, put on your walking shoes: It’s time to see the best of the catwalk and beyond with a whirlwind tour of New York’s museums.
Whether you’re interested in French couture, cutting-edge fashion, contemporary street style or some serious bling, there’s something for you to feast your eyes upon in the exhibitions now when you travel to Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Stop into these New York City museums to see the wearable art on display — and maybe even take some home with you.
Museum at FIT
As a first stop for fashion historians, it’s only natural to go to the source: The Museum at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology), a few blocks south of New York’s Fashion District.
The latest exhibition, “Paris: Capital of Fashion” (on view through Jan. 4, 2020), looks at the “mythic glamour” of the city, according to museum director Valerie Steele, and its centuries-old influence on designers of every nationality.
High-fashion aficionados will thrill at seeing pieces such as the original Christian Dior dress from Richard Avedon’s photo “Dovima with Elephants,” Marie Antoinette-inspired confections from John Galliano, Chanel works from both Coco herself and Karl Lagerfeld, and more.
The Museum at FIT, 227 W 27th St., New York NY, 10001, +1 (212) 217-4558
The cavernous halls of the Brooklyn Museum always lend themselves to big ideas, and it’s a trip to experience shows such as “Pierre Cardin: Future Fashion” (on view through Jan. 5, 2020).
In the exhibition, visitors travel through Star Trek-esque showrooms and space-age disco environments populated with Cardin’s designs for clothing, accessories, runway presentations and other eye-pleasing delights.
Though at first glance much of it can seem like a throwback, it’s illuminating to consider how the still-living designer’s visions of gender-fluid fashion and his savvy shift from French couture into the world of mass merchandising seem all the more relevant in today’s design landscape.
Brooklyn Museum, 200 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn NY, 11238, +1 (718) 638-5000
Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Even if you’re not a designer yourself, it’s illuminating to consider how a garment is made and the physical challenges of creating fashion. And when it comes to celebrating the process of design, the Cooper Hewitt is always the place to go.
The design triennial “Nature” (on view through Jan. 20, 2020) looks at ways technology can enhance or modify fashion, from glowing silk dresses woven from genetically modified silkworms to Adidas shoes made from marine plastic waste and biofabricated alternatives to leather.
The companion exhibition “Nature by Design” follows the path of patterns such as paisley, as seen on traditional Kashmir shawls and contemporary designs by fashion house Etro and Bill Blass as well as the humble red bandana.
Cooper Hewitt, 2 East 91st St., New York, NY 10128, +1 (212) 849-8400
Museum of Arts and Design
The act of making is as much craft as it is art, and the Museum of Arts and Design brings this concept to the forefront. From the traditional to the technological, it showcases the techniques used in the creative process in its wide-ranging shows.
Its newest exhibition, “The World of Anna Sui” (opening Sept. 12, 2019, through Feb. 23, 2020), looks at the imaginative pop culture approach of the designer and her myriad points of inspiration throughout her nearly 30-year career, including Victoriana, punk and American midcentury kitsch.
Among Sui’s influences are the vibrantly painted scarves designed by 20th-century artist and entrepreneur Vera Neumann, which, conveniently, can be seen on the same visit in the colorful retrospective “Vera Paints a Scarf” (on view through Jan. 26, 2020).
Museum of Arts and Design, 2 Columbus Circle, New York, NY 10019, +1 (212) 299-7777
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Even when the Anna Wintour Costume Institute isn’t stomping the halls of the Met with its annual summer blockbuster exhibitions, the venerable institution is a treasure trove of inspiration for the fashion-minded.
“Jewelry for America” (on view through April 5, 2020) features more than 100 pieces from the Met’s collection, including Cartier diamond and platinum lorgnettes, turn-of-the-century Tiffany necklaces, and even John Singer Sargent paintings, to trace the evolution of jewelry’s status in America since the country’s founding.
For the more textile-minded, “Frank Lloyd Wright Textiles: The Taliesin Line, 1955-60” (on view through April 5, 2020) shows a softer side of the famed architect through the commercial textile and wallpaper patterns he produced at the close of his career.
Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10028, +1 (212) 535-7710
Whitney Museum of American Art
The relationship between fashion and art has always been a strong one at the Whitney, and the collaborative spirit has become even more whimsical and wearable since the museum’s move from the Upper East Side to the Meatpacking District in 2015.
Exclusive shop items tied to the museum’s changing exhibitions (such as Hillflint sweaters and varsity jackets in honor of the latest Biennial) share shelf space with items by American designers that pay homage to the Whitney’s permanent collections and institutional history.
Where else can you get an authentic Bollman Hat fedora inspired by the one worn by Edward Hopper, or a Thakoon tie in same floral printed silk as the dress first lady Michelle Obama wore at the new building’s dedication ceremony?
Whitney Museum of American Art, 99 Gansevoort St., New York, NY 10014, +1 (212) 570-3600
Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)
Until the new MoMA building reopens to the public on Oct. 21, design and fashion fiends can get their fix at the flagship MoMA Design Store across the street from the museum.
MoMA’s design department champions the inherent value of good design in its permanent collection, and you’ll find that democratization in the Design Store’s inclusion of iconic streetwear such as New Era Yankees caps and Champion sweatshirts alongside Comme des Garcons wallets.
For a little art history with your casual wear, grab a MoMA version of the Armor Lux marinière, the traditional blue-and-white striped Breton shirt worn by Pablo Picasso and now available in variations such as rainbow Pride stripes.
Museum of Modern Art (reopening Oct. 21, 2019), 11 W 53rd St., New York, NY, 10019, +1 (212) 708-9400
MoMA Design Store, 44 W 53rd St., New York, NY, 10019, +1 (212) 767-1050
– Casey Barber is a food writer, photographer, and illustrator; the author of the cookbooks “Pierogi Love: New Takes on an Old-World Comfort Food” and “Classic Snacks Made from Scratch: 70 Homemade Versions of Your Favorite Brand-Name Treats”; and editor of the website Good. Food. Stories.