Defining masculinities: the connection between art, social movements and fashion – Isabella van de Grampel, Putney High


Gender expression through clothing has always seemed like a one-sided story. That’s what the Victoria and Albert Museum’s “Defining Masculinities” exhibition seeks to convey from the moment your eyes feast on the rich colors and voluminous fabrics on display that are true to Gucci’s quintessential tastes, its sponsor.

Ever since the male form was first documented by ancient designers through sculpture and other art forms, menswear has been a tool to enforce conformity or allow expression, however, this does not started to be appreciated in the public fashion sphere only very recently; As society has moved to become grounded in moving beyond the binaries on which it is built, menswear has had the opportunity to explore its own rich evolution.

A key part of the attempt to break down stereotypes through men’s clothing is in the realms of queer fashion, and this is prevalent throughout the exhibition. It’s important to clarify that the phrase LBGTQ+ has always been confused with effeminate men or masculine women, and at the V&A it was made clear that the purpose of queer menswear strives to break down these harmful assumptions by showing rather how the concept of ‘masculinity’ is simply something that should be accessible to everyone. Whether it was a photograph depicting Patti Smith who throughout her life was decidedly androgynous in her clothing choices, or the intricate binders made by gc2b, it caused an epiphany for my father who is then exclaimed: “this explains what I am”. wear and why I wear it! Like many others who realized that this was a story that belonged to the collective rather than individual revolutionaries, he noted that regardless of whether one chooses to rebel or conforming to gender expectations, socio-historical movements have always played into men’s subconscious fashion choices, such as (but not exclusively) when queer people moved away from temporal trends and belief systems within their communities.

The theme of fluidity extended beyond gender boundaries, however, to explore the male form and expectations of what it should look like. Prominent classical works were scattered throughout the cavernous room: Facing the pale, muscular statues of the Greek god Hermes and the Emperor Augustus Antinous’ lover, it was clear how dynamically expectations can shift, as a body skinny was the norm… 2000 years ago. This glorification of youth and virility over the muscular, irresistible mold now demanded of men in advertisements similar to the Calvin Klein underwear advertisements (which hung right in front of the classic statues), not only underscores the evolution of the masculine form in “mass”. media” over the centuries, but the mutable and unrealistic nature of these criteria.

“Gender is a performance.” Written on a plaque next to one of the displays, this sentiment was echoed by fashion in the second room which traveled hundreds of years into the past to prove that, historically, flamboyant dress symbolized wealth and the statute. Breeches, collars and ruffs could be as bulky as women’s clothing, and it wasn’t until the conservative, pious Victorian era – which primarily advocated industrial black suits – that menswear faced a major challenge. major repression. For example, men in the 18th century did not hesitate to wear pink. Whether it had to do with the fact that the colonization of India, where pink remains a unisex color, meant that an abundance of red and pink dyes were becoming more widely available, or that it just hadn’t yet been associated with the genre, pink has come to represent something very different in menswear today: it champions the effort to defy expectations, especially the pale pink colors used by designers Harris Reed and Thom Browne (who simulated deconstructed elite Ivy League sportswear through his design shown in the photo above).

Suddenly it was dark as a row of black suits stood stiff and starchy behind the glass. Men in black – that was the theme of the 19th century: a time of industrialization, enlightenment and innovation, but not for men’s fashion. Conservative clothing became increasingly popular as men began to dress for the realm of commerce and trade, and black cloth took hold in Britain as a burial shroud as fashion began to reflect the dust and smog of new cities and industrial towns. This shift to more formal dress should not, however, be blamed solely on manufacturing and development: a crossover between military and civilian clothing in the 18th century due to the fact that, temporarily, tailors made both types of clothing meant that they were beginning to draw inspiration from this duality. Consequently, the Royal Navy’s switch to dark blue regalia in 1748 had a huge impact on the fashion world, one that was devoted to men’s fashion during the Napoleonic Wars: a story told by the looming model dressed in the military insignia of Admiral Horatio Nelson. .

Above all, the element that seemed to be most relatable, or relevant, to the young audiences one would expect to be drawn to such an exhibit, was the red carpet impact of the performance. The infamous blue Gucci dress, handmade by Alessandro Michele and worn by Harry Styles on the cover of American Vogue, was on display. Styles’ bold entrance as the first solo male cover star of the hallowed magazine was an example of how fashion, as much as any other creative or academic medium, can spark debate among progressive and conservative critics about the most controversial topics – in this case, the fashionable binary genre – as well as providing the representation that so many people have felt for far too long. The exhibition, hosted by the V&A Museum, is open for an additional 9 days until November 6 (2022), and is a crucial social commentary giving the depiction of a previously untold story in its entirety.


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