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French robe volante

1730

A Tour of the Greatest Fashion Masterpieces in History

InStyle

It's hard to not get caught up in today's rapid cycle of trends. It's even harder to step back and look at fashion beyond last season, the present, and the next. But that's what the latest exhibit at the Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art is for. "Masterworks: Unpacking Fashion," which runs from now Nov. 18, 2016 until Feb. 5 2017, features 50 fashion masterworks--"examples of the highest aesthetic and technical quality that serve as superb expressions of their respective eras and together demonstrate the evolution of fashionable dress over time."

And while it's a much smaller exhibit in scale, it's not one that you can breeze through. The extremely curated selection spans three centuries, from the 1700s to present day, and each look is intended to inspire awe, to make you stop, absorb, and appreciate its craftsmanship and ingenuity. Altogether, it's a walking tour of fashion's most iconic looks throughout history.

It begins with conservative brocade robe dresses and men's suits from 18th-century England and France before taking us through to the 19th century, in which fashion begins to embrace technological developments (a House of Worth couture ball gown from 1898 is on display). Surrealism plays a major role in the early 20th century, made even more so with designers like Elsa Schiaparelli and Charles James. And more recently, there's the iconic safety pin Versace dress (that Elizabeth Hurley wore in 1994), Alexander McQueen's boundary-pushing designs, Rei Kawakubo's Comme Des Garcons masterpieces, and Demna Gvasalia's Balenciaga tailored suit separates from this season.

"Our mission is to present fashion as a living art that interprets history, becomes part of the historical process, and inspires subsequent art," says Andrew Bolton, curator in charge, in a release. "Over the seven decades since The Costume Institute became part of The Met in 1946, our collecting strategy has shifted from creating a collection of Western high fashion that is encyclopedic in breadth to one focused on acquiring a body of masterworks."

Scroll through for a glimpse at a few of the masterworks on display. And don't forget to take in the whole exhibit at The Met, located at 1000 5th Avenue in N.Y.C. Pictured above: Viktor & Rolf ball gown, spring/summer 2010.