The Victoria and Albert museum encourages visitors to really think about what masculinity means and how it has evolved through menswear over the centuries.
This is not a simple fashion exhibition, instead with Fashioning Masculinities invites us to explore what masculinity used to mean and what it means today with a particular focus on how menswear has adapted and changed as society has developed. From underwear to tuxedos and much more, this exhibition spans over hundreds of years with seamless ease and is impressively displayed to give a thorough examination of this topic.
As well as the garments themselves, there is a huge wealth of other objects on display with plenty of detailed explanations on how everything from colour to style was used to show power and status, according to what the ‘ideal’ male was at the time. The exhibition begins rather fascinatingly with a room that is dedicated to exploring the ideals of the masculine body with the help of classical statues of Apollo, Hermes and the Borghese Gladiator – this room challenges and effectively lays the groundwork for the rest of the exhibition, to show how far menswear has evolved and transformed the idea of masculinity.
It would be fair to say that the sheer volume of information and outfit styles that have been selected can make the exhibition feel slightly overwhelming – but I’m sure that the curators had a difficult time narrowing it down to what they has so elegantly presented here. With the ‘Overdressed’ section, you can see how the past and present of menswear intertwine and used in completely different ways to send out a different message – shown through the likes of Randi Rahm’s look designed for Billy Porter, a dazzling contemporary take of showing the flamboyancy of the capes that used to be worn in the 1500’s for example. Meanwhile, the exhibition also smashes through certain stereotypes – for example that the idea of particular colour only being suitable for those of a certain gender – visitors are told that for centuries Europeans associated the colour with wealth and prosperity and it was only in the 20th century that it became associated with femininity – highlighting again the way in which the exhibition wants us to challenge our ideas.
Of course, the exhibition also takes a lot of consideration into society’s changing attitude to gender fluidity and its impact on the world of fashion, with pieces including Marlene Dietrich’s and Stella McCartney’s tuxedos or the gown that Harry Styles wore on the front cover of Vogue, it shows that the idea of masculinity is constantly evolving and has been for hundreds of years – but is only now becoming more noticeable.
Impressive and thoughtful, Fashioning Masculinities is an engaging exhibition that leaves you with plenty to think about.
By Emma Clarendon
Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear is on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum until the 6th November.
Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of