Making the Mundane Meaningful at MoMA

T-shirts. Jeans. A little black dress. Underwear.

Not exactly garments you might think worthy of the MoMA’s first fashion exhibit in 73 years, and only second fashion exhibit—ever.

However, items many of us have had as staples in our own closets over the years are exactly the garments sparking current conversation in the fashion and art world since this collection of seemingly mundane clothes and accessories opened to the public on October 1, 2018.Just a week ago, New York’s Modern Museum of Art unveiled its latest exhibit “Items: Is Fashion Modern?” and we were there to take it all in.


From the original Wonderbra to various versions of the Little Black Dress, “Items: Is Fashion Modern?” explores the significance of everyday garments in our lives.

The exhibit is in stark contrast to the star-studded red carpet event that is the Met Gala each spring. For all their grandeur, the fashion exhibitions at the Met generally showcase one designer or one theme at a time. The unique exhibit on view at the MoMA through January 28, 2018 not only covers a variety of themes including body image and modesty, but also the vast array of designers and craftspeople who are credited with the creation of garments and accessories that have been woven into our everyday lives.

The beauty and draw of “Items: Is Fashion Modern?” is in its accessibility. While most will never own Comme des Garçons straight off the runway, most do have access to a pair of Converse sneakers. In fact, many exhibition viewers will be reminded of a childhood basketball court or perhaps art school days wearing a pair of All Stars. Any yet, despite Converse All Star familiarity, visitors to MoMA will learn something new about the sneakers they’ve tied countless times, as the origin and cultural significance is highlighted for each of the 111 items included in the show.


Rei Kawakubo’s response to the body image debate, from Body Meets Dress, Dress Meets Body S/S 1997 collection

Comme des Garçons fans who may be thinking, “But I can view the Chucks in my closet,” you are not forgotten. Commentary surrounds not only iconic garments and accessories, but also themes that have come up in fashion season after season such as body image and sustainability. And several runway pieces are featured demonstrating the far reach societal trends have—from the consumer standing in her closet to a response from the runways in Paris.


Shift Dress, often associated with the 60s, the Shift Dress was originally an ankle or knee-length garment until World War II material rations

Rarely do we so closely “see ourselves” in curated exhibitions. In “Items,” we not only connect to the items themselves, but to the “stories” the items tell. And to stretch the viewers of this exhibit, curators have included many stories connected to the featured items, so while a hoodie or sports jersey might symbolize team sport fandom to one, viewers are also reminded of the significance these particular pieces of clothing have played in the case of Trayvon Martin‘s death or in Colin Kaepernick‘s taking a knee.

The title of MoMA’s second-only fashion exhibit is a direct descendent of its first fashion exhibit in 1944 entitled “Are Clothes Modern?” But to answer the question “Is Fashion Modern?” we say yes. And fashion is historical. And fashion is relevant, significant and representative of our modern lives.

Curators of the exhibit suggest the same. Take a look at the 111 items included in the exhibit. Viewers are invited to add items they feel have been left out. University of Fashion founder and author of the Historical Dictionary of the Fashion Industry Second Edition Francesca Sterlacci’s thoughts? A pouf dress, wedding dress and opaque pantyhose should have made the cut. Which items would you include? Comment below!


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Kara Laricks is a regular contributor to the University of Fashion. She’s also a New York based women's wear and accessories designer. As the first winner of NBC's Fashion Star, Kara has designed collections for H&M, Macy's and Saks Fifth Avenue. Her masculine meets feminine line, Kara Laricks, debuted at New York Fashion Week in 2012 and her S/S 2013 collection sold exclusively at Saks Fifth Avenue. Kara's designs have been featured on the Today Show and HBO's True Blood as well as covered in Women's Wear Daily and on Kara holds Master's degrees in both Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Kansas and in Fashion Design from the Academy of Art in San Francisco. An educator turned designer, Kara is dedicated to supporting emerging designers and inspiring others to follow where dreams lead.