The World’s Greatest Fashion Museums

For fashion lovers, there are many annual, not-to-be-missed dates and destinations for couture. The “Big Four” fashion weeks alone mean an international whirlwind tour of London, New York, Paris, and Milan each spring and fall, all in time to see the future of fashion unveiled on the runway.

For those who simply can’t get enough — those dreadfully impatient with the long wait between February and September — there are also year-round hotspots to be found. The museums below are some of the finest places in the world in which to become immersed in, and entranced by, fashion and textile history.

Museum of Fine Arts & Lace Making

Alençon, France has an international reputation for the quality of its lace, so much so that its distinctive “point d’Alençon” was placed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity be UNESCO in 2010. This museum is dedicated to not just paintings and sculptures in an “encyclopedic journey” through French, Italian, and Nordic artwork, but also the region’s finest needlework. Rooms devoted entirely to this highly intricate, artisanal tradition retrace 350 years of its history. Documents, contemporary creations, and a twenty-minute film shine a light on this extraordinary form of making, with beautiful samples from antiquity that are so detailed and fine, one might assume that they have been made with laser cutters. It’s enough to make textile lovers swoon.

Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto

Sonja Bata’s private shoe collection transformed into a family foundation in 1979 when the collection outgrew her home; by the time the Bata Museum found a home of its own and opened its doors to the public in 1995, the collection was one of the finest in the world. Today the museum stands as North America’s foremost shoe museum. Situated on Toronto’s iconic Bloor Street near Yorkville, it features four galleries that pay homage to the history of shoes and shoemaking across the globe. One permanent exhibit, All About Shoes, covers 4,500 years of changing footwear, while the other three feature a rotating roster. Needless to say, Carrie Bradshaw would lose her mind in these hallowed halls, which showcase over a thousand pieces of footwear. Visitors will find everything from Chinese bound-foot shoes and ancient Egyptian sandals to contemporary heels, platforms, and clogs.

Anna Wintour Costume Center at the MET

The devil does, indeed, wear Prada — and so, so much more. While this one technically isn’t its own museum, per se (it’s been operating as a curatorial department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art since 1959), we would be remiss to leave this one off our list. Today it houses over 33,000 costumes and accessories from the 15th century onwards, with pieces from 5 continents. The centre has been named after Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue, since 1995; arguably the world’s most influential tastemaker, she is also the chair of the museum’s annual Met Gala. Read our coverage of the fashion-frenzied event here.

Victoria & Albert Museum

If you had to restrict yourself to visiting just one of the museums on this list, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London is the sure-fire one to go with. This architectural landmark is the world’s largest museum of applied decorative arts and design; its permanent collection houses a whopping 2.27 million objects. This year’s exhibitions offered an impressive line-up: Christian Dior: Designer of Dreams was sold out to the end of its run on September 1st. Those unable to beg, barter, and bribe their way into tickets could content themselves with a showcase of Mary Quant designs, a colourful retrospective of the mod pieces that transformed the streets of London in the 1960s. And for those who love all things sparkly, an exhibit marking the Queen Victoria and Prince Albert bicentenary boasts one fabulous new addition to the museum’s jewelry display: a sapphire and diamond coronet.

Kyoto Costume Institute

“Clothing is integral to the way that we live, changing with each shift in history and society,” says Yoshikata Tsukamoto, Chair of the Kyoto Costume Institute, in a message on the museum’s website. The Institute is specifically dedicated to Western clothing, citing its importance in the evolution of apparel on a global scale. Visitors to the KCI will discover preserved, centuries-old garments, as well as documents and items relating to the Institute’s extensive research efforts in the field. Clothing is placed in a social, economic, and cultural context, allowing us to examine the ways in which attire functions to reflect the time and place in which it is created and worn. Dress Code: Are You Playing Fashion?, for instance, was an exhibition that explored the idea of how we choose clothing and use it to establish identities. Visitors saw pieces from Comme des Garçons, Dior, Fendi, Armani, Gucci, Helmut Lang, Louis Vuitton, Moschino, Viktor & Rolf, Chanel, and much, much more.