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FIT Museum: The History of Fashion


New York has a large state-run university system. However New York City has only three small SUNY campuses. There is Downstate Medical University in Brooklyn, and Maritime College in the Bronx. But my exploration of small museums has drawn me to Manhattan’s Fashion Institute of Technology.

The Fashion Institute of Technology was founded in 1945 to provide education in the fields of design, management, art and mass communication in the fashion industry, which was one of New York’s main manufacturing bases. The school originally occupied the top two floors of the High School of Needle Trades (today H.S. of Fashion Industry) on West 25th street and had 100 students in a two-year program. Today, FIT has over 9000 students taking many 4-year and graduate degrees in its campus on 27th street.

museum sign

The Museum at FIT was founded in 1969, with a mission to produce exhibitions that educate and inspire diverse audiences and that advance the knowledge of fashion. It has a collection of 50,000 garments and accessories that date from the 18th century through today. The museum has three galleries, including one dedicated to shows curated and produced by current students.

I visited The Museum at FIT in February, and The Gallery at FIT was hosting a show entitled “Black in Time” which explored the history of fashion in the African American community over the past 100 years. It presented examples of clothes and culture from 1960’s Black Power, to Kente cloths, to club clothes from the disco era, using FIT’s archives to wonderful advantage.

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The main galleries of the museum were hosting two exhibitions on ways that culture influenced fashion. On the main floor was the exhibit “Power Mode.” (Through May 9, 2020) Power Mode explores the interaction between samples of power and the design of clothing. It is divided into five sections: military, suits, protest, sex and sexuality, and finally status. Examples of male and female fashion are presented in an exploration of the ways that designers have explored the themes and incorporated them into their designs.

power YSLYves Sant Laurent's military-inspired dress

Power diorPieces by Pyer and Moss inspired by the protest movements of the 2010s

power pirple leatherSeditionaries and Givenchy explore sexuality

power m and mBalenciaga and Mochino  incorporate the status of big business

The main exhibit, in the Downstairs Gallery, was “Ballerina: Fashion’s Modern Muse” (through April 18, 2020), delves into the ways that ballet costumes and their materials have been used by fashion designers. Original costumes, some dating back over 100 years, are displayed, along with the dresses, skirts and blouses inspired by them. Now, I am not a “fashion” person, although watching Project Runway has broadened my knowledge, but this exhibit really showed me the connection between ballet and fashion in ways that I would never have noticed.

ballerinaballerina jewelsCostumes by Barbara Karinska for the ballet Jewels

ballerina sugar plumBarbara Karinska's costume for The Sugar Plum Fairy

ballerina brocadeballerina danskinDanskin's influence on fashion

ballerina feathersballerina floral

One of things that I learned in visiting The Museum at FIT is that there are very few truly original designers, and that fact is okay. What most fashion designers do, like most artists, is put their spin on traditional or new, and incorporate the world around them into their work.

Nuts and Bolts

The Museum at FIT is FREE! However it is part of a school, and its exhibits tend to run along the calendar year, so the summer and January might find it in between shows.

Getting there: Take the #1 train to 28th street and walk one block south along 7th Ave. 

The museum is currently closed due to the coronavirus epidemic; exhibits may be extended when the museum reopens.


Images (21)
  • ballerina biker
  • power YSL
  • power pirple leather
  • black in style 06
  • black in style 07
  • museum sign
  • Power dior
  • power m and m
  • black in style 01
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  • ballerina jewels
  • ballerina sugar plum
  • ballerina tule
  • ballerina
  • ballerina brocade
  • ballerina danskin
  • ballerina feathers
  • ballerina floral

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