Fashion Today and Yesterday

Visited Fashion Institute of Technology to see the new exhibit, A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk. This show is really enjoyable and worth seeing. Many people don’t know that they have a lot of museum space in the school and they frequently put together challenging shows.

The key element to this exhibit is the understanding that sexuality had an important role in the creativity of many of fashions biggest names. From Christian Dior to Yves Saint Laurent and Alexander McQueen, gay men had an outsized role as fashion designers in the twentieth century. Rather than falling into an essentialist trap of saying that because the men were gay they had some kind of sensitivity to women, the arguments the show makes fit with the argument I made about fashion designers in Hollywood in my book, Hollywood Bohemians: Transgressive Sexuality and the Selling of the Movieland Dream, that the fashion world provided a location where gay men could be comfortable at work and were often surrounded by other gay men in the field and worked with women who were comfortable with these mens’ sexuality. Of course, that was sometimes because these actresses, such as Marlene Dietrich, were both bisexual themselves but were also interested in pushing the boundaries of fashion.

Marlene Dietrich pushing fashion boundaries

I thought the exhibit could have focused more on the role of fashion designers in the movie industry. In Hollywood Bohemians, I note that Warner Brothers main designer in the 1930s Orry Kelly was a gay man and a good friend of Cary Grant.Orry Kelly

There were many others in the ranks, so many that novels and movies about the industry featured gay males as fashion directors. Below, the actor Curt Bois plays a gay fashion designer in Hollywood Hotel from 193

Fashion Designer in Hollywood Hotel

The show has fascinating looks at the clothes worn by Mollies in the 1700s while working in taverns in England and by Dandies who adopted the style of Aesthetic dress that Oscar Wilde advocated in the late 1800s.

More recent vogue includes a whole section on the styles of men who died of AIDS, the out there works of Jean Paul Gaultier and the high-fashion looks of Gianni Versace, drawing on queer sub-cultural styles like leather and uniforms. The other major sub-cultural contributor to fashion is of course, drag. Clothes include an outfit worn by the most famous of all drag queens, Ru Paul.

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