Enfilade

Exhibition | A Queer History of Fashion

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on September 17, 2013

From The Museum at FIT:

A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk
The Museum at FIT, New York, 13 September 2013 — 4 January 2014

Curated by Fred Dennis and Valerie Steele

Man’s three piece silk velvet suit, 1790-1800, France. Museum purchase, 2010.98.1. © 2013 The Museum at FIT Photo by Eileen Costa

Man’s three piece silk velvet suit, 1790–1800, France
Museum purchase, 2010.98.1. Photo by Eileen Costa

A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk features approximately 100 ensembles, from 18th-century menswear styles associated with an emerging gay subculture to 21st-century high fashion. This is the first museum exhibition to explore in depth the significant contributions to fashion made by LGBTQ (lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender-queer) individuals over the past 300 years.

Exhibition curators Fred Dennis, senior curator of costume, and Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of The Museum at FIT, spent two years researching and curating the exhibition. They worked with an advisory committee of eminent scholars, including professors George Chauncey (author of Gay New York), Shaun Cole (author of Don We Now Our Gay Apparel), Jonathan Katz (author/curator of Hide and Seek), Peter McNeil (co-editor of The Men’s Fashion Reader), and Vicki Karaminas (co-editor of the forthcoming Queer Style), as well as FIT faculty and fashion professionals.

“This is about honoring the gay and lesbian designers of the past and present,” said Dennis. “By acknowledging their contributions to fashion, we want to encourage people to embrace diversity.”

“We also hope that this exhibition will transform our understanding of fashion history,” added Steele. “For many years, gays and lesbians were hidden from history. By acknowledging the historic influence of gay designers, and by emphasizing the important role that fashion and style have played within the LGBTQ community, we see how central gay culture has been to the creation of modern fashion.”

From Cristobal Balenciaga and Christian Dior to Yves Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen, many of the greatest fashion designers of the past century have been gay. Organized in roughly chronological order, the exhibition explores the history of modern fashion through the lens of gay and lesbian life and culture, addressing subjects including androgyny, dandyism, idealizing and transgressive aesthetic styles, and the influence of subcultural and street styles, including drag, leather, and uniforms.

The exhibition will trace how the gay vernacular styles changed after Stonewall, becoming increasingly “butch.” Lesbian style also evolved, moving from the ‘butch-femme’ paradigm toward an androgynous, anti-fashion look, which was, in turn, followed by various diversified styles that often referenced subcultures like punk. The AIDS crisis marks a pivotal mid-point in the exhibition. Clothing by a number of designers who died of AIDS, including Perry Ellis, Halston, and Bill Robinson, will be featured, as will a wide range of activist T-shirts for ACT UP, Queer Nation, the Lesbian and Gay Rights March in Washington and the iconic Read My Lips. Emphasizing that gay rights are human rights, the exhibition concludes with a section on gay wedding fashions as the sartorial expression of the issue of marriage equality.

Exhibition design is by Joel Sanders, well-known architect and author of Stud: The Architecture of Masculinity.

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From Yale UP:

Valerie Steele, ed., A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2013), 248 pages, ISBN: 978-0300196702, $50.

9780300196702From Christian Dior to Yves Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen, many of the greatest fashion designers of the past century have been gay. Fashion and style have played an important role within the LGBTQ community, as well, even as early as the 18th century. This provocative book looks at the history of fashion through a queer lens, examining high fashion as a site of gay cultural production and exploring the aesthetic sensibilities and unconventional dress of LGBTQ people, especially since the 1950s, to demonstrate the centrality of gay culture to the creation of modern fashion.

Contributions by some of the world’s most acclaimed scholars of gay history and fashion – including Christopher Breward, Shaun Cole, Vicki Karaminas, Jonathan D. Katz, Peter McNeil, and Elizabeth Wilson – investigate topics such as the context in which key designers’ lives and works form part of a broader ‘gay’ history; the ‘archeology’ of queer attire back to the homosexual underworld of 18th-century Europe; and the influence of LGBTQ subcultural styles from the trouser suits worn by Marlene Dietrich (which inspired Yves Saint Laurent’s ‘Le Smoking’) to the iconography of leather. Sumptuous illustrations include both fashion photography and archival imagery.

Valerie Steele is director and chief curator of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York.