In America: A Lexicon of Fashion, the first of a two-part exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, attempts to develop a vocabulary to address the evocative qualities of American fashion since the 1940s. The exhibition comprises approximately 100 ensembles classified and subdivided amongst twelve emotional themes (Nostalgia, Belonging, Delight, Assurance, Desire, Strength, Comfort, Confidence, Affinity, Wonder, Joy and Consciousness) in order to consider how is fashion ‘spoken’ in America. A Lexicon is inspired by and conceptually modelled upon the quilt, a staple of American folk tradition and a metaphor of diversity, with the exhibits arranged by likeness in shadow boxes. The quantity is impressive, the relations thoughtful and the definitions nuanced, but the succession of identically presented exhibits can be overwhelming, if not monotonous. At the same time, the exhibition feels somewhat abridged, with the promise of a more spectacular Part Two weighing on the galleries. Nevertheless, In America: A Lexicon of Fashion succeeds in providing a vocabulary that one naturally falls into when considering the American fashion on display and in asking the most time-tested, à propos question that has shaped the nation since even before its founding: Who gets to be American?
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