The Museum at The Fashion Institute of Technology

One of the highlight of my trip to New York was a stop in at the Museum at FIT.  The current exhibition is called Fashion and Technology, a look at how changing technology has affected fashion design and garment production.  Don’t be misled by the name, thinking that all the garments are of modern, high tech fabrics.  The earliest garments in the show are a man’s coat and waistcoat, circa 1780-1800.  The items were made from machine knit fabric, the latest technological advance in the textile industry in 1780.

The five dresses shown above each illustrate a technology that we simply take for granted today.  The circa 1800 white dress is made from cotton, which was not easily manufactured until the invention of the cotton gin and the spinning jenny.  The circa 1844 brown dress is made of fabric woven on the new jacquard loom.  Note the sewing machine in front of the next white dress.  That dress shows a combination of both hand and machine stitching.  The last two dresses show advances in fabric finishes and dyes; the light brown dress has a moiré finish and the purple was dyed using the new to the 1860s aniline dye.

Note the computer screen in front of the white dress.  It shows the inner workings of the dress, letting the visitors see both the machine and the hand stitching present in the dress.  This was just one use of modern technology in the exhibition.  There were videos set up throughout the hall showing several runway shows that have incorporated technologies, including Burberry’s holograms and McQueen’s robotic paint sprayers.

The exhibition continues through the end of the 19th century and into the 20th.  There are some beautiful 1920s garments that show the influence of the the Art Deco movement and how technology influenced the design motifs of that era.  And the new technology of zippers is shown with a Schiaparelli dress and one by designer Charles James.

In this 1955 Charles James dress, the zipper helps to form the shape and fit of the gown.

With the 1950s and 60s came synthetic fabrics.  One really interesting dress was a “wash and wear” fabric dress by Claire McCardell which was displayed along with an ad for a washing machine (or maybe it was for powdered soap; I lost my note on it).

The photo above shows some of the interesting fabrics of the 1960s.  Starting on the left you see a pair of “space age” inspired boots and a dress by French designer André Courrèges.  The first pink dress is made from paper, and the second one is a dress from Pierre Cardin, made from a heat molded fabric.  There is a plastic disc dress from Paco Rabanne, circa 1965, and a jumpsuit by Emilio Pucci made of an elasticized silk shantung fabric, “Emilioform.”  Finally, the yellow coat is made by Yves Saint Laurent from PVC.

Here’s a closer look at the Courrèges and the paper dress.

No talk about technology and fabrics would be complete without a look at Ultrasuede®.  The suit on the left is by Halston, circa 1975.  On the right is a dress from Mary McFadden made from her signature poly pleated fabric.  And don’t miss the platform shoes with the built-in wheels.

On the left is a Pleats Please dress from  Issey Miyake , 1997.  The hologram ensemble is from Kenneth Richards. 1996.  And the jumpsuit is Jean Paul Gaultier’s look at cyberspace, 1996.

And of course, in the past few years, we have seen more and more influences from technology:  Gareth Pugh, 2012, Louise Gray, 2012, and Mandy Coon, 2013.

Fashion and Technology runs through May8, 2013, and if you are going to be in the New York City area, you really should make time to see it.  I went with my two friends, neither of whom gives a whit about fashion history (or so they thought) but both of whom were completely absorbed in the experience.  The only disappointment was that this was the only exhibition, as Ivy Style had just closed, and it left them wanting more.

The small photos are clickable to see enlargements.

All photographs copyright and courtesy of The Museum at FIT, New York.  To see more of the exhibition, visit the special website that FIT has set up for it.


Filed under Museums

15 responses to “The Museum at The Fashion Institute of Technology

  1. Stunning~thanks for sharing


  2. Wonderful! Thank you for sharing! I went to the Wolfsonian Miami Beach last weekend. Saw an exhibit on the Wiener Werkstatte postcards many of which were about the fashion of the day. if you are ever in the neighborhood it is always a museum worth a visit.


  3. I will have to check out the FIT museum the next time I’m in NY. The zipper on that Charles James dress–!!!


  4. Wonderful photos! Thank you so much for sharing them and your commentary!

    Charles James was A.MAZE.ING! The engineering of his beautiful dresses is mind-blowing! When I couldn’t go, I sent my in-laws to see the Chicago History Museum’s exhibit about his designs – they sent me back a book of the exhibit. It includes some x-ray photos of his dresses because there is no other way to understand how they were constructed!


  5. Danette

    FIT has amazing exhibits! I will be there in March and can’t wait to check out this one. There will be the ‘Shoe Obsession’ exhibit as well by then! Thanks for sharing, I enjoy your insight and attention to detail!


  6. Susan

    What a great post! I’m sure I’ll be rereading it for all the information you packed into it. Thank you again, Lizzie, for sharing this wonderful exhibit. I love the 60s, and that pale pink Courreges dress with pockets exemplifies how different the body-skimming clothes of the 60s were from the fitted fashions of the previous decades (and from the clinging knit dresses of the 70s.) The slightly stiff fabrics that made them possible — bonded knits and bonded double-knits (often with a high-low brocaded look in washable polyester) — were really a new technology. Apparently, it turned out not to have a long life-span, probably due to the adhesives, and the tendency of knits to stretch free of the bonded lining, or just eventually get snagged and shabby — especially when you’re a pet owner!
    The concept of this fashion technology exhibit is really wonderful, and you explained it so well for those of us far from New York.


    • I’ve encountered vintage bonded knits from the 60s in thrift stores that were literally sprinkling dried glue dust on the floor! I was a pre-teen when that fabric was so popular, and I can remember having a few dresses my grandmother made for me from it. They could almost stand on their own accord!


  7. Thank you for such a clear and engaging write-up on our exhibition!!


  8. This is why I think fashion is so interesting; art and science are combined in its creation.


  9. Yes this exhibit was superb also as they all were. Here’s a link
    about that stained glass. It could be studied for a long time. I agree with comment above, fashion is such a ‘perfect storm’ of the extremely personal (clothing),science, art and social interaction.


  10. Such an interesting post! I absolutely loved the really old dresses. I’m sure I wouldn’t love them as much if I had to wear them though. I love breathable fabrics.


  11. So interesting post and wonderful exhibit and pics.
    I felt like i was in NY now!!


  12. Elliot greenberg

    I have a collection of warp knit fabrics with their layout sheets from 1962-1980. From Lauren fabrics and ballet fabrics both plain and novelties. I would like to discuss donating to the museum. My family has already donated to Philadelphia our woven collection.


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