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While we can all agree that much of the excitement of travel is going out and seeing the sights—not to mention digging into that particular country’s cuisine—there’s also the chance to check out world-class museums geared specifically toward fashion lovers. Whether you’re obsessed with footwear from the late 17th century or the YSL collections of the 1970s, here are a 10 must-see museums around the world worth seeking out.
1. The Anna Wintour Costume Center at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Admission: Suggested Donation $25
When Anna Wintour gets involved with something, you can expect nothing less than sky-high standards and truly epic results. And after a two-year renovation, the Costume Institute re-opened its doors in 2014 with its inaugural exhibition “Charles James: Beyond Fashion,” showcasing the mid-century New York designer’s revolutionary ball gowns. That exhibit, as well as subsequent show “China: Through the Looking Glass,” went on to smash attendance records and provide deep context for the role fashion plays in culture, art, and society. Visitors can get up close to costumes and gain deeper insight through multimedia screenings alongside the displays.
Not-to-Miss Exhibition: “Manus x Machina: Fashion in an Age of Technology,” May 5-August 14
It’s no secret that technology’s infiltrated every aspect of our lives, whether we like it or not. The Costume Institute explores tech’s role in fashion in its Spring 2016 exhibit, featuring more than 100 garments that illustrate the dichotomy between handmade and machine-produced fashion. Designers on display include Coco Chanel, Christian Dior, Mary Katrantzou, Issey Miyake, and dozens of other top names. There will also be a series of workshops that allow visitors to see the creation of 3D printed clothing.
2. Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York
With a permanent collection of over 50,000 garments and accessories and edgy, award-winning exhibitions, the Museum at FIT has certainly earned its nickname as “the most fashionable museum in New York City.” In total, it houses three galleries, including one for student and faculty exhibitions. One level down is the special exhibitions section, which undergoes a complete makeover every six months—so there’s always something new to check out. The museum hosts special events a few times each month, inviting designers, experts, authors, and other leading thinkers for discussions with the public.
Not-to-Miss Exhibition: “Fairy Tale Fashion,” January 15-April 16
Fashion is nothing if not fanciful, and what better way to play to that than an exhibition capturing the fairy-tale quality of some designs. Characters from well-known fairy tales including Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and the Little Red Riding Hood, come to life with an exhibit of 80 imaginative looks from labels like Alexander McQueen, Prada, and Comme des Garçons.
3. Bata Shoe Museum, Toronto, Canada
You could say this museum in downtown Toronto has something of a footwear fetish. Not only is it shaped like a shoebox, Bata operates under the philosophy that there’s a story behind every shoe, and aims to unpack compelling cultural connections to footwear with a collection of artifacts that span 4,500 years of history. You’ll find everything from French chestnut crushing boots and Chinese embroidered silk slippers, to Japanese samurai footwear and even shoes made from human hair. There’s also an extensive array of celebrity shoes, including Elton John’s famous silver platform boots from the 70s, Elvis Presley’s blue patent loafers, and Queen Victoria’s ballroom slippers.
Not-to-Miss Exhibition: “Fashion Victims: The Pleasures & Perils of Dress in the 19th Century,” now through June
The exquisitely-tailored suits, delicate footwear, and glorious ball gowns of the 19th century hid some dirty secrets like poisonous dyes, traces of mercury, rib-constricting corsets, and toe-crunching narrow shoes (OK, some things haven’t changed). This exhibit explores the more literal definition of fashion victim and the pain involved with looking en vogue in the 1800s.
4. Victoria and Albert Museum, London, United Kingdom
The world’s largest museum of art and design is a Fashion Girl’s dream and looks back on four centuries of fashion with a collection of over 14,000 items, including rare 17th-century ball gowns, antique opera costumes, brocaded silk gowns, and textiles from ancient Egypt. While not exclusively devoted to fashion, this museum has some serious stylistic undertakings, having hosted sold-out retrospectives on McQueen and Dior in recent years. Hat lovers, take note: this London museum is topped off with a renowned millinery collection that will make you swoon.
Not-to-Miss Exhibition: “Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear,” April 16, 2016-March 12, 2017
If the mystery of underwear’s ever kept you up at night, worry no more! This exhibit undresses the secrets of skivvies, exploring its practical purposes throughout history and its role in a chic, sexy wardrobe. You can also see the evolution of undergarments (which have mercifully become far more comfortable over time) and designers who’ve argued against the mandate of wearing undies.
5. Museum of Bags and Purses, Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Amsterdam’s Tassen Museum Hendrikje (Museum of Bags and Purses) is the largest museum for the the accessory in the world, and traces purses from their role as a carryall for Bibles and money for men in the Middle Ages through their prized place in a modern woman’s luxury wardrobe. You’ll see one-of-a-kind artifacts like a goat’s leather belt pouch from 16th-century France and the silk bridal bag owned by Princess Maria Leszinska, the bride of King Louis XV of France. And there’s plenty of fashion from the 20th century, too, like Emilio Pucci’s 1960s-inspired silk handbag, Judith Leiber’s cat bag (named for the Clinton family’s First Pet, Socks), and Yves Saint Laurent’s crystal-studded clutch.
Not-to-Miss Exhibition: “Street Couture,” January 10-May 6
The line between haute couture and street style is blurrier than ever, something the exhibit hopes to unpack in an exhibition of classic couture from Chanel, Dior, and Prada matched with street style subcultures like Japanese Shibuya girls and American hip hop artists.
6. Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising Museum and Galleries, Los Angeles
Students at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, along with members of the public, get up close to everything from Parisian haute couture to iconic film costumes at this Los Angeles museum. The institution goes beyond fashion, however, and features the other essential parts of a chic lifestyle, including jewelry, textiles, and fragrances. You’ll find bottles of Chanel No. 5 (circa 1930-1949), hoop skirts from the 1860s, lacy fans, and outrageous rattlesnake-skin boots for men from the ‘70s.
Not-to-Miss Exhibition: 24th Annual Art of Motion Picture Costume Design
This yearly exhibit is a highlight at the FIDM Museum and Galleries. This year’s show will feature more than 100 costumes from Hollywood’s top costume designers, exploring how clothing breathes life into on-screen characters.
7. Simone Handbag Museum, Seoul, South Korea
This new museum, which opened its doors in 2012, takes special pride in restoring and preserving delicate antique handbags, allowing visitors to view fine specimens like an English “sweetmeat purse” from the late 16th century, a European miser’s purse from 1815-1819, an early American letter case from 1790, and German lingerie bags from the mid-19th century. With two floors of beautifully displayed bags, the museum illustrates how purses have evolved, both aesthetically and functionally, over time.
Not-to-Miss Exhibition: The museum has yet to reveal its special exhibitions for 2016, so spend your time taking in the amazing items in the permanent collection of contemporary ‘it’ bags and historical gems.
8. Museum of Fine Arts and Lace, Alençon, France
What fashion girl doesn’t love lace? To get to the heart of this delicate fabric, you’ll need to head about 100 miles west of Paris to Alençon, where the best lace in the world is produced. Watch women crafting lace by hand right in the museum, view exquisite collections of fine lace, and learn about the role Alençon has played throughout history. You’ll leave with a much deeper appreciation of this intricate technique.
Not-to-Miss Exhibition: “Breton, Photographs of Charles Fréger,” March 8-May 22
In addition to lace, the museum also focuses on fine arts, marrying the two in an exhibition of portraits by Charles Fréger. The images will show women dressed in traditional costumes and explore how fashion and cultural identity intertwine.
9. Palais Galliera Musée de la Mode, Paris, France
This museum gives French fashion the royal treatment, displaying it in a 19th-century palace that was owned by the Duchess Galliera. It contains one of the world’s best collections of 18th-century dresses, including a bodice that was supposedly worn by Marie Antoinette, along with stunningly embroidered costumes from the 19th century, early Chanel garments, Paul Poiret’s flamboyant designs, and even an entire department devoted to undergarments with high couture labels like Balmain and Dior. While the full collections are generally not on view, the temporary exhibits offer endless opportunities for the contemporary fashionista to get lost in fashion’s storied past.
Not-to-Miss Exhibition: “Treasured Dresses of Countess Greffulhe,” now through March 20
This exhibit is devoted entirely to the fabulous wardrobe of French salon queen Countess Greffulhe. As the museum puts it, “Countess Greffulhe was the epitome of elegance,” so expect to see lots of tulle, gauze, chiffon, and feathers, along with gorgeous velvet coats, kimono jackets, and much more.
10. Gucci Museo, Florence, Italy
Florence—or Firenze, as the locals say—is a mecca for Gucci lovers, where a museum displays iconic garments from the renowned fashion house’s 90-year history. Unsurprisingly (though no less interestingly), visitors will find Gucci’s spectacular gowns, sleek leather luggage, iconic handbags, and lifestyle items like bicycles, cars, and golf clubs. The museum also hosts collaborations with artists, screens Italian films, and invites visitors to enjoy strong Italian espresso in the café.
Not-to-Miss Exhibition: “The Crest of Guilds,” ongoing
Florence’s rich history as a center for craftsmanship is on display at the museum’s bookstore and cafe, where an exhibit on crests representing guilds of silk weavers, furrier, and merchants from as early as the 13th century is on view. Of course, you’ll see Gucci’s crest alongside these antique symbols.