Monday, September 16, 2013


All of fashion's influential designers are creative, and some of the most recognized are gay. From John Galliano's ball gowns to Alexander McQueen's runway shows and Jil Sander's minimalistic looks, history is a testament to the span of sensational queer style. With LGBT history month right around the bend, the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology's Friday the 13th debut of A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk is a timely tribute to the icons of gay aesthetic. 

Installation view [photo source: The Museum at FIT, New York]

Featuring 100 styles over 300 years, the show starts with a variety of looks from the emerging gay subculture of the 18th century and ends with a celebration of present day high fashion--two brides and two grooms holding hands, marking the legalization of gay marriage. "This is about honoring the gay and lesbian designers of the past and present," says Fred Dennis, senior curator of costume, "By acknowledging their contributions to fashion, we want to encourage people to embrace diversity."

Ensemble worn by RuPaul  // "Leather" [photo source: The Museum at FIT]

And what a display! Spectators experience feats of fashion from Yves Saint Laurent's 1930s women's smoking jacket and RuPaul's slinky red vinyl ensemble to Versace's leather bondage dress. Each of the iconic ensembles are arranged chronologically and grouped by theme. Viewers move along a timeline by which lesbian style evolves from "butch-femme" to androgynous to punk, and the AIDS crisis becomes memorialized on shirts and slogans. From the discreet style of the early 18th century to the colorful "mod" style of the 60s, the exhibit captures the shifts in style and style makers in one gigantic freeze frame. 

Installation view [photo source: The Museum at FIT, NY]

Perhaps most intriguing are the covert visual cues--the red tie, the bleached hair or the Levis + plaid--that only others of the same orientation would pick up on. Running until January 2014, there is ample opportunity to stop in at the Museum at FIT's A Queer History of Fashion. A book by the same name accompanies the exhibit.

John Bartlett leather ensemble, F/W '00-'01 [photo courtesy Art Resource] // Pierre Balmain + Jean Cocteau, Christian BĂ©rard Riding Costume 1947 [photo courtesy Beverly Birks]

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