Fashion is, and always has been, a compelling sociocultural reflector, as well as a dynamic and expressive art form that transcends class and provenance. (“Clothes make the man,” Mark Twain once said. “Naked people have little or no influence on society.”) So it is no surprise that fashion museums have popped up all over the globe, catering to a variety of style enthusiasts.
These museums are well worth a visit, even if you’ve never had a passion for fashion. Some, such as the Museo del Traje in Madrid or the Musée Galliera in Paris, are entirely independent and exclusively dedicated to garment-related artifacts. Others, such as the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, comprise one curatorial department within a larger existing institution. And then there are those collections that form part of fashion- and design-focused universities, such as the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York or the FIDM Museum & Galleries in Los Angeles, an arm of the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising.
Textiles tend to be extremely sensitive, and museum exhibits rotate frequently in kind. Along with permanent and temporary exhibitions, fashion museums offer an exciting cocktail of educational programs, workshops, interactive events and context. Many of the collections are donations; Betsy Bloomingdale gave a generous gift of haute couture to the FIDM back in the 1970s. And some—like the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, which stages live fashion shows inside its Raphael gallery—really go the extra mile, bringing a taste of the fantastic world of fashion straight to its visitors.