Eliza Vincz in the 18th-century style <em srcset=robe à la française that got her denied entry to the Metropolitan Museum. (photo courtesy Eliza Vincz)” width=”720″ height=”720″ srcset=”https://hyperallergic-newspack.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/2018/02/met-museum-costume-kerfuffle-lead-720×720.jpg 720w, https://hyperallergic-newspack.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/2018/02/met-museum-costume-kerfuffle-lead-1080×1080.jpg 1080w, https://hyperallergic-newspack.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/2018/02/met-museum-costume-kerfuffle-lead-360×360.jpg 360w, https://hyperallergic-newspack.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/2018/02/met-museum-costume-kerfuffle-lead-200×200.jpg 200w, https://hyperallergic-newspack.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/2018/02/met-museum-costume-kerfuffle-lead.jpg 1400w” sizes=”(max-width: 720px) 100vw, 720px”>

Eliza Vincz in the 18th-century style robe à la française that got her denied entry to the Metropolitan Museum. (photo courtesy Eliza Vincz)

If it’s not the night of the Met Gala, guests in elaborate dresses may have a hard time getting into the Metropolitan Museum. On Saturday afternoon, a woman wearing a handmade dress in the 18th-century robe à la française style was barred from entering the institution.

Eliza Vincz, a historian specializing in 18th-century fashion and politics, had arrived at the museum to participate in a “Fashion and Beauty Tour” led by Shady Ladies Tours founder Andrew Lear, an art historian and scholar. She was wearing a gown of blue silk taffeta and silk organza in the style of dresses worn around 1765–1775, as found in portraits from that era (and somewhat similar to a dress from that period in the Met’s permanent collection). But as the group entered the museum, a security guard took exception to Vincz’s conspicuous couture.

“I was really looking forward to this, I had planned it back in December with [Andrew Lear], and had done a promotional video and everything,” Vincz told Hyperallergic over the phone. “We were getting ready to start the tour, we were gathering everybody, and the next thing I knew this security guard came up to me and she said, ‘Excuse me ma’am, you can’t have outside artwork in here, you need to leave.’ And I said, ‘I’m actually here with the Fashion and Beauty Tour, I thank you for seeing this as art,’ and then she says: ‘We have costumes, did this come from the Costume Institute?’ She was implying I was stealing, which is the best worst compliment I could ever get, because on the one hand you’re accusing me of theft, but then on the other hand you think my outfit is so convincing that it’s an original. So I was angry and slightly flattered.”

Once it became clear that she would not be allowed into the museum to participate in the tour, Vincz gave an abridged version of her presentation before leaving the museum.

“I came all the way from South Jersey to do this,” Vincz, who lives in Burlington, New Jersey, added. “I have done other talks on 18th-century clothing and fashion, it’s actually my job, I teach history through talking about it and showing it, so I show the fashion aspects of it and the political aspects of it. I thought the Met would be the perfect place, it was kind of a dream of mine to do this, so when I was thrown out it became something of a nightmare.”

In response to Vincz’s story, first reported by the New York Daily News, a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Museum told Hyperallergic that the institution has no specific ban on costumes. However, security staff have leeway to prevent people whom they deem potentially disruptive to the overall visitor experience from entering.

“The Met doesn’t have a dress code, but there are guidelines for what visitors can bring in and what activities are allowed in the galleries,” the spokesperson said, “and the Museum’s security officers are also there to ensure that anyone entering the building isn’t going to unnecessarily disturb fellow visitors or put the art at risk.”

Vincz, who had volunteered her time to help out with Saturday’s tour, had hoped to educate and enlighten rather than disturb other visitors. She had spent more than a month sewing the gown for the occasion.

“It’s completely handmade, there’s no sewing machine work in it at all, it’s all done by hand,” she said. “I actually had to hand-sew Edwardian-era sequins onto it because I prefer using antique or vintage details, which make it more real. I had on original 18th-century jewelry. Normally I get paid to do these things, this is my job, but this time I was doing some volunteer work.”

The next “Fashion and Beauty” tour of the Met is scheduled for March 3 though Vincz isn’t slated to participate.

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Benjamin Sutton

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy...

12 replies on “Metropolitan Museum Turns Away Visitor in 18th-Century Style Gown”

  1. The Met has a chance to do some great PR work here and if they don’t seize the opportunity, they are going to continue to look like ridiculous.

  2. Shame on the Met! As a member and frequent visitor, I encounter more serious distractions than this on every visit, such as school groups, loud tours, art touching, and uncategorizable idiotic behavior.

  3. I personally don’t feel like the Met was out of line here. I believe museums reserve the right to control the visitor experience to at least some degree, and I can imagine so many problems with setting a precedent where visitors unaffiliated with the museum or its staff are allowed to come in period costume, or really any costume at all. Like, I came to see the art, not your side project. I also think what’s key here is that she didn’t seem to contact the museum ahead of time at all to let them know she was coming or what the rationale for the costume was.

    1. I agree that it might have faired better if she contacted the Museum ahead of her visit but sometimes it is difficult to know who to contact in a big conglomeration as the MET. I agree it could have been distracting but also wonderful at the same time. She might have been considered part of the MET but if approved she could have been given a special badge explaining the purpose of her costume.

      1. Right. I think there’s a good chance she could have been allowed to wear the costume had she reached out to the museum first (there are tons of points of contact for most museums – I’m sure one could have pointed her in the right direction).

  4. Yet one more way in which people who attend cultural and arts institutions are expected to shut up, stand there like an inactive lump, and passively witness what’s on the other side of the velvet rope. You’re a butt in a seat or a dot in a revenue stream, and nothing else.
    Could you imagine how much more vibrant a museum of all places could be if it respected and harnessed the creativity of its surrounding community instead of squelching it the minute it gets through the door?
    People expect to participate in culture nowdays, Met. Evolve or die.

  5. Shame on the Met! This woman was dressed appropriately for this event and fashion tour. You’d think they would encourage this kind of participation!

  6. What?! Very difficult to believe & a very sad commentary on the Met. As an out-of-state visitor of several times in the past, I would have totally enjoyed seeing this talented woman floating around “doing her thing.” Ditto on Yorick’s comment of several days ago. The Met needs to send this woman a written apology. Absolutely.

  7. She probably should have asked them first – people get ‘powerful’ when challenged….and she challenged them….so they did their thing & threw her out ! It is typical behavior of those ‘in charge’ of anything !

  8. The met’s decision is totally valid as it relates to the safety of the artwork on display. The wide, sweeping skirts could knock over a sculpture, or someone she passes might wish to get out of her way and inadvertently break something. what she should have done was plan in advance by contacting the met’s education department, which would have performed a risk assessment of her being in the galleries as a precaution against insurance risk and then, once reviewed and approved, she could have done her tour. just another example of someone, even a historian, thinking that museums just happen to be there and there is no staff or resources to ask questions of. all she had to do was ask. also, this isn’t your house! you can’t just walk in and do whatever you want! this is a shared space and you have to ensure you have the full approval of the museum to be there if you’re going to do something out of the ordinary.

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