Exhibition Review:

Fashion on the Move

Were women always allowed to participate in sports? What role did women play in sports throughout the 1900’s? How has women’s sportswear evolved throughout past centuries? In light of the 2024 Olympics, I have recently found myself questioning the history of activewear. Curious to learn more, I was eager to explore Palais Galliera’s latest installation, Fashion on the Move. This exhibit masterfully transports visitors through time by showcasing garments that are representative of the modernization of athletic apparel over time.

Since 1977, Palais Galliera, otherwise known as the Musée de la Mode de la Ville de Paris, has operated as a museum devoted exclusively to fashion in Paris, France. In conjunction with the 2024 Olympics, the museum’s current curation intends to shed light upon the function of clothing for physical activities, the relationship between femininity and movement, and hardships women have faced as a result of sportswear's evolution. Considering that the Olympics are set to take place in Paris, thus inspiring an increase in the public’s interest towards athletic attire, there is truly no better time than now to showcase such a compelling collection.

As the 2024 Paris Olympics approach, Palais Galliera’s Fashion on the Move demonstrates insightful parallels, as well as distinct contrasts, between women’s sportswear from the end of the 19th century to today. In my opinion, the exhibit was overall successful in its attempt to provide the audience with a general understanding of all that female athletes have endured in relation to attire. The display expertly paints a picture of the modernization of women’s sportswear from the late 1800’s to 2024 by presenting the curation in chronological order. This allows one to visualize styles that have changed rapidly between decades, as well as alterations that took many years to reach their full potential.

The sequential nature of Fashion on the Move also works to highlight the most quintessential instances of change in women’s sportswear. When taking a step back to admire the curation of over 200 pieces, I witnessed the exhibit’s emphasis upon several monumental events. This includes the controversial creation of cycling trousers for women in the late 1800’s, the shortening and narrowing of silhouettes in the 1910’s, and the invention of swimsuits that were functional, yet more revealing than ever, in the 1920’s. During the 1930’s and 1940’s, the exhibit suggested that women experienced a return to femininity, and Christian Dior’s “New Look” contributed to the decline of less-constrictive alterations that had been made decades prior.

By the 1950’s, ready-to-wear clothing had taken over and silhouettes remained feminine. In contrast, the 1960’s were revolutionary for women’s sportswear as the miniskirt was introduced and clothing became more revealing and less conservative. In the 70’s, major sportswear brands emerged and it was finally socially acceptable for women to workout in bodysuits and pants. A “fitness craze” emerged in the 1980’s, which popularized leotards, nylon, legwarmers, sweatsuits, and spectacular workout ensembles. During the 90’s, fashion continued to become more high-tech, minimalistic, and comfortable, and the rise of everyday street/sportswear began. From the turn of the 21st century to today, athletic attire has continued to dominate the market as sneakers are now worn by the majority of the population, athleisure has become the new normal, and fashion houses frequently collaborate with global sporting brands.

Furthermore, the message of Fashion on the Move was reinforced by the creative decision to present everyday clothing adjacent to pieces designed for athletic purposes. For example, women of the late 1800’s were expected to wear dresses with corseted waistlines and frilly skirts in their daily lives. However, for activities such as cycling, hiking, and horse riding, the first edition of women’s trousers, oversized bloomers with cuffs at the calf, were introduced. Placing casual dresses besides athletic pants that were designed to give a dress-like appearance demonstrates the fact that women were eager for pieces that allowed them to move more freely.

During my visit, I found that the displays were incredibly informative and thorough. The chronological nature of the exhibit is what allowed the curators to successfully distinguish between drastic changes and subtle alterations in women’s sportswear. Each decade received its own section in the museum, and several of the most quintessential garments from a given time period were illuminated under spotlights. The contrast between the dimly lit black gallery and the bright lights shining upon each garment was very seductive, and it was evident that the curators aspired to draw as much attention as possible to the clothing. Additionally, all of the garments were labeled accordingly, large printed signs contained a general synopsis of each decade, and smaller signs detailed intriguing facts about specific pieces.

As strategically placed as most of the signs were, I felt that the legibility of the smaller signs was negatively impacted by how tiny they were. On more than one occasion I found myself straining to read the contents of these signs, and I am of the opinion that it would be beneficial to reprint them onto larger boards.

Furthermore, the consecutive order of the collection overall contributed to the exhibition’s mission, however, I was slightly critical of where certain decades were placed. Although I enjoyed feeling invited to explore and roam at my own leisure, the exhibit lacked a sense of direction and I often found myself arriving at decade sections in the wrong order. In the end, I believe that incorporating signage with arrows leading one towards the intended route would decrease any element of confusion without compromising the minimalism of the gallery.

Moreover, I felt that there was a disproportionate amount of coverage between the 20th and 21st centuries. The 1900’s were covered extensively, while the past 24 years, a time in which sportswear has prevailed more than ever before, lacked the same amount of devotion. I would encourage the museum curators to pull more pieces from prominent brands and dive deeper into the integration of sportswear within daily life.

Palais Galleria’s comparison of ensembles designed as early as the 1800's to pieces that are popular today puts into evidence how drastically women’s sportswear has changed over time. Perfectly planned to coincide with the 2024 Olympics, Fashion on the Move successfully invites one to consider the relationship between clothing and the human physique throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. Furthermore, the gallery provides one with an understanding of how women’s sportswear has become adapted for physical activity, increasingly masculine, and integral within everyday life. By showcasing garments reflective of the zeitgeist for each decade, utilizing concise and straightforward signage, and taking the audience on a chronological journey, the exhibition leaves an impression that is sure to stand the test of time.