MFIT Presents – A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk

Butch Chanel, Wigstock, NYC, 1992. Photograph by Michael James O'Brien c.2013
Butch Chanel, Wigstock, NYC, 1992. Photograph by Michael James O’Brien c.2013

The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (MFIT) will present the groundbreaking exhibition, A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk, 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. Opening on September 13, 2013, A Queer History of Fashion will feature approximately 100 ensembles, from 18th-century menswear styles associated with an emerging gay subculture to 21st-century high fashion.

Model Jenny Shimizu, Helmut Red campaign. Photograph by Mark Seliger
Model Jenny Shimizu, Helmut Red campaign. Photograph by Mark Seliger

From Christian Dior to Yves Saint Laurent to Alexander McQueen, the importance of gay men as fashion designers is undeniable in the 20th century. But scholars have demonstrated that, as early as the 1700s, men who loved other men were pioneers in challenging sex and gender roles. Drawing on this research, A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk will be organized chronologically, beginning with the 18th century, when cross-dressing “mollies,” foppish “macaronis,” and “men milliners” created controversy.

Jean Paul Gaultier, orange shirred-velvet dress with cone bust and back lacing, 1984, France
Jean Paul Gaultier, orange shirred-velvet dress with cone bust and back lacing, 1984, France

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

Man's black leather ensemble: Levis jacket, Mr Pearl corset, Abel Villarreal pant and custom Wesco boots, worn by Scott Ewalt, 1990s
Man’s black leather ensemble: Levis jacket, Mr Pearl corset, Abel Villarreal pant and custom Wesco boots, worn by Scott Ewalt, 1990s

“We also hope that this exhibition will transform our understanding of fashion history,” added Valerie Steele, director and chief curator of The Museum at FIT. “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.”

Christian Dior, cocktail ensemble in aubergine silk faille, 1953-1954, France
Christian Dior, cocktail ensemble in aubergine silk faille, 1953-1954, France

A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk will include a wide range of street and subcultural styles associated with the LGBTQ community, as well as high fashion looks created by gay, bisexual, and lesbian designers. 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.

Gianni Versace, leather evening dress, Autumn:Winter 1992
Gianni Versace, leather evening dress, Autumn:Winter 1992

The exhibition will be on display September 13, 2013 – January 4, 2014 Museum hours: Tuesday-Friday, noon-8 pm; Saturday, 10 am-5 pm. Closed Sunday, Monday, and legal holidays. Museum at FIT is located at: Seventh Avenue at 27 Street New York City Admission is free.  Photos courtesy of The Museum at FIT www.fitnyc.edu

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