2020 was a year in which time stood still. Being “fashionably late” had a whole new meaning. In fact, we rarely had anywhere we could be late to. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s long-awaited fashion exhibit was no exception.
Aptly named “About Time: Fashion and Duration,” the Costume Institute’s latest project had one of the largest gestation periods in Met history due to the pandemic. With garments dating back 150 years displayed next to their modern counterparts, curator Andrew Bolton artfully illustrated the interconnectedness of fashion trends across time.
This exhibit — *fittingly* launched in 2020 — taught us that, in a world full of uncertainty, time remains constant. From the moment we entered the exhibition, we found ourselves traveling through time and discovering some of fashion’s most iconic designs. The room laid out in the circular shape of a clock, each “minute” on the clock at our feet highlighted a pair of outfits that were created decades — sometimes centuries — apart. First came the original piece. Then, the second’s strikingly similar silhouette tied the two together, perfectly illustrating fashion’s cyclical nature.
These purposefully-paired ensembles were often surprising, and we found ourselves saying more than once, “I would totally wear that!” Only then would we discover that more often than not, we were eyeing garments from centuries ago.
That’s when it hit us: nothing says “circular economy” quite like a Spring/Summer 2020 runway dress…designed over 100 years ago.
“Fashion and Duration” showcased over sixty examples of the industry’s past and present coexisting — its newest trailblazers inspired by its most famous pioneers. At first, it appeared to be a social experiment about how trends evolve over time. As we were led into a room full of mirrors — staring at our own reflections — we realized that it represented much more than that. We were looking right at our own modern consumption habits. This was where the intersection of art, fashion, and sustainability became blatantly clear.
Who knew that the designers of yesterday would be the visionaries we needed to build a better tomorrow?
Digging deeper, “Fashion and Duration” explored the theme of finding beauty in age, a concept that is rarely honored in our culture. It’s a thought that challenges the very foundation of the fashion industry — new collections every season, competition, and constantly churning out new products to stay atop the game. We’re always on the hunt for the “next best thing.”
But, people also crave familiarity. This was highlighted here on the 4th floor of the Met, as much as it is in our daily coffee orders, and even more so in our closets full of old clothes.
We get it. There’s nothing quite like re-living the first time you wore your high school varsity sports jacket, or reminiscing about your fondest memories in your favorite dress. There’s even something thrilling about finding a worn-in gem at your local thrift shop or swapping clothes with a longtime friend.
“Fashion and Duration” proved that we have a certain emotional attachment to clothing that builds over time, yet it was also a strong call to action for brands and consumers alike.
Furthermore, the exhibit showed us that our industry hasn’t really changed in over 150 years — and neither have we. What if we could do something truly new — by using what we already have?
That resonated with us.
As we go through our closets, we find ourselves tied to the pieces we’ve worn across our lifetime that highlight who we are, but we don’t often stop to think about where that garment came from. Was it mass-produced, or was it one-of-a-kind? How OLD even is it? Sustainable or not, this mindset of pausing and reflecting is the first step towards more conscious consumption. Our garments’ journeys should become part of ours. After all, many of us tell our stories of who we were and where we’re heading — through the way we dress.
In a moment where our relationship to both time and fashion has changed, how can we use this opportunity for good?
“Fashion and Duration” sparked dialogue among fashion editors, art critics, and people like you and me about taking the time to slow down. Factories on the other side of the world shut down due to COVID-19 and forced the entire industry to pause. We took a break from the detrimental effect that mass production has on the environment, but this also made space for designers to breathe and preserve their creative minds. Now, it’s time to think, reevaluate our production practices, and take action together.
At the end of the exhibit, we were met with a single white Viktor + Rolf haute couture dress floating mid-air. Made from upcycled textile swatches “imperfectly” woven together, it gave us a hopeful glimpse into the future of fashion — one that is sustainable and thriving. It was a clean slate to start fresh, and a blank canvas on which to create something new.
Will you join us on our journey towards creating a better fashion industry?