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In America (Part 1): A Lexicon of Fashion

Start Date 18 September 2021
End Date 05 September 2022
Venue Metropolitan Museum of Art
Location New York, USA
Curator Andrew Bolton and Amanda Garfinkel
Designer LAMB Design Studio with the Met's design department

(New York, May 3, 2021)—The Costume Institute’s next major exhibition will be a two-part show on view from September 18, 2021 through September 5, 2022. Part One, In America: A Lexicon of Fashion—opening in the Anna Wintour Costume Center on September 18, 2021—will celebrate The Costume Institute’s 75th anniversary and explore a modern vocabulary of American fashion. Part Two, In America: An Anthology of Fashion—opening in the American Wing period rooms on May 5, 2022—will explore the development of American fashion by presenting narratives that relate to the complex and layered histories of those spaces. Parts One and Two will close on September 5, 2022.

The exhibition is made possible by Instagram.

Additional support is provided by Condé Nast.

In celebration of the opening of Part One, a more intimate Costume Institute Benefit (also known as The Met Gala) is scheduled for Monday, September 13, 2021, pending government guidelines. The Met Gala for Part Two will take place on May 2, 2022. The Benefit provides The Costume Institute with its primary source of annual funding for exhibitions, publications, acquisitions, operations, and capital improvements.

Timothée Chalamet, Billie Eilish, Amanda Gorman, and Naomi Osaka will serve as co-chairs for the September gala. Honorary chairs for the evening will be Tom Ford, Adam Mosseri, and Anna Wintour.

“Fashion is both a harbinger of cultural shifts and a record of the forces, beliefs, and events that shape our lives,” said Max Hollein, the Marina Kellen French Director of The Met. “This two-part exhibition will consider how fashion reflects evolving notions of identity in America and will explore a multitude of perspectives through presentations that speak to some of the complexities of history with powerful immediacy. In looking at the past through this lens, we can consider the aesthetic and cultural impact of fashion on historical aspects of American life.”

Andrew Bolton, the Wendy Yu Curator in Charge of The Costume Institute, said: “Over the past year, because of the pandemic, the connections to our homes have become more emotional, as have those to our clothes. For American fashion, this has meant an increased emphasis on sentiment over practicality. Responding to this shift, Part One of the exhibition will establish a modern vocabulary of American fashion based on the expressive qualities of clothing as well as deeper associations with issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion. Part Two will further investigate the evolving language of American fashion through a series of collaborations with American film directors who will visualize the unfinished stories inherent in The Met’s period rooms.”

Exhibition Overview

Part One—In America: A Lexicon of Fashion: The Costume Institute’s Anna Wintour Costume Center galleries will feature a fictional American home constructed of transparent walls that intersect and overlap, blurring the boundaries of the interior rooms. Examples of 20th- and 21st-century fashion will populate the rooms, reflecting the customs and behaviors of the imagined occupants. Designs by pioneers of American sportswear will be displayed alongside works by a diverse group of contemporary designers to illustrate a shifting emphasis in American fashion defined by feelings of fear, delight, comfort, anxiety, well-being, loneliness, happiness, belonging, self-reflection, and self-representation, among other qualities.

Melina Matsoukas will create a specially commissioned, open-ended film to project in the galleries, the content of which will evolve over the course of the exhibition.

Part Two—In America: An Anthology of Fashion: Opening May 5, 2022, Part Two of the exhibition is a collaboration between The Costume Institute and the American Wing. It is the final installment of The Costume Institute’s trilogy of period-room shows, which began with Dangerous Liaisons: Fashion and Furniture in the 18th Century (2004) in the French Period Rooms, followed by AngloMania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion (2006) in the English Period Rooms.

Part Two of the exhibition will feature women’s and men’s historical and contemporary dress dating from the 18th century to the present in vignettes installed in select period rooms. The interiors present a survey of more than 300 years of American domestic life and tell a variety of stories—from the personal to the political, the stylistic to the cultural, and the aesthetic to the ideological. The exhibition will reflect on these narratives through a series of three-dimensional cinematic “freeze frames” produced in collaboration with notable American film directors. These mise-en-scènes will explore the role of dress in shaping American identity and address the complex and layered histories of the rooms.

Spanning the years 1670 to 1915, the interiors include a Shaker Retiring Room from the 1830s that explores the defining characteristics of American sportswear, such as utility, simplicity, and practicality, through the work of Claire McCardell. A 19th-century parlor from Richmond, Virginia, will feature the intricate designs of Fannie Criss, a highly regarded local dressmaker active at the turn of the 20th century. John Vanderlyn’s panoramic 1819 mural of Versailles will set the stage for a re-creation of the historic 1973 “Battle of Versailles” that pitted American designers against their French counterparts. A 20th-century living room designed by Frank Lloyd Wright will highlight the architectural gowns of Charles James to examine notions of creative genius and the tensions between artist and patron.


Part One is organized by Andrew Bolton and Amanda Garfinkel, Assistant Curator of The Costume Institute. Part Two is organized by Bolton and Jessica Regan, Associate Curator of The Costume Institute, and Amelia Peck, the Marica F. Vilcek Curator of American Decorative Arts and Supervising Curator of the Ratti Textile Center, with the support of Sylvia Yount, the Lawrence A. Fleischman Curator in Charge of the American Wing.

LAMB Design Studio’s Nathan Crowley and Shane Valentino, film production designers who have worked on past Costume Institute exhibitions, will oversee exhibition design with The Met’s Design Department. Cinematographer Bradford Young (whose film projects include Selma, Arrival, and When They See Us) will work with Crowley and Valentino on the sets and lighting. Franklin Leonard, a film executive and founder of The Black List, will be an advisor on the exhibition.

Landscape architect Miranda Brooks will consult on The Met Gala design with Raul Avila, who has produced the décor for the gala since 2007.

Related Content: A publication by Andrew Bolton and Jessica Regan, with Amelia Peck and others, will accompany the exhibition. Available in May 2022, the book will be designed by Willem Van Zoetendaal and include new photography by Bradford Young. It will be published by The Metropolitan Museum of Art and distributed by Yale University Press.

A special feature on the Museum’s website,, provides further information about the exhibition. Follow us on,, and to join the conversation about the exhibition and gala. Use #MetInAmerica, #CostumeInstitute, @MetCostumeInstitute, and #MetGala on Instagram and Twitter.

About the American Wing Period Rooms: In 1909, The Metropolitan Museum of Art hosted the Hudson-Fulton Exhibition, in which early American decorative arts—glass, silver, ceramics, and furniture—as well as paintings were featured together for the first time in an American art museum. An overwhelmingly positive public response led to the creation of the Museum’s American Wing, which opened in 1924. Conceived as three floors of decorated rooms surrounding central furniture galleries, the wing was intended to transport visitors back to a certain time and place—the term “period room” was used to describe the immersive interiors. The architectural elements of the 15 original rooms, removed from 18th- and early 19th-century houses along the Eastern seaboard, provided an innovative framework for The Met’s growing collection of American fine and decorative arts, tracing a chronological progression of design in the United States from the Colonial to early Federal period. Today, following several expansions, the American Wing houses 21 period rooms spanning some 300 years, now interpreted through more expansive and inclusive narratives that foreground gender, race, and class.