Fashion & Beauty

Is Fashion Modern?

20_0Elizabeth Taylor in a MuuMuu Dress. Is it modern?

Earlier this week, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York invited a dynamic list key of designers, curators, critics, scholars, activists, and entrepreneurs to debate a singular idea: Is Fashion Modern?

The gathering served as a precursor to MoMA’s upcoming 2017 exhibition Items: Is Fashion Modern?, which will feature 99 iconic garments and accessories that have had “a strong impact on history and society in the 20th and 21st centuries, and that continue to hold currency today.”  

Some of these iconic items include: the Little Black Dress, the Fur Coat, the Blue Jean, the MuuMuu Dress (seen above on Elizabeth Taylor), the Turtle Neck, among many others. What the debaters beautifully explored (see the full video below and here) is this complicated relationship between our clothes and the stories they tell. In other words, fashion is not just about shopping for pretty things or, things that make us feel pretty. It is also about the narratives embedded in those items that we don each day — narratives that are almost always steeped “functionality, cultural etiquettes, aesthetics, politics, labor, identities, economies, history and technology.” 

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At Women’s Voices for Change, we too have been exploring this relationship through our profiles on women’s role in fashion. Earlier this Spring we wrote about how fashion depicts power seen beautifully in the power suits worn by the leading women in CBS’s The Good Wife. Later, we also broached the question of fashion’s role in cultural diplomacy by looking at how several designers are using their designs to counter censorship and exclusion of the “modest” aesthetics of Muslim women.

In 2014, we wrote about Jacki Lyden’s NPR show, The SEAMS, and her beautiful philosophy:  “Clothing Is Our Common Thread: In Every Stitch, a Story.” As  a foreign correspondent for many years, Lyden shared with us that she created The SEAMS because she really believed in “fashion as a common human experience, a historical reference, and a connective tissue between cultures.”

What we’ve learned is that although the answer to the question of “Is Fashion Modern?” might be an obvious  “Yes!” The  real answer is: “It’s Complicated!”

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