After seeing A Queer History of Fashion: From The Closet To The Catwalk currently on at The Museum at FIT through January 4th, we have to give the museum credit for tackling a huge and ambitious topic.
We can tell you that the exhibition is probably not exactly what you think it is.
It's not necessarily a survey of clothes made by gay designers, although a lot of it is.
It's not a specifically compendium of clothes worn by LGBTQ people, although a lot of those are included.
It's not a display of outfits worn by drag queens, although there are a few of those.
It's not a presentation of ensembles fit for a leather bar, although there's a little of that too.
It's not even a study of how gay styles affect mainstream fashion, although it touches upon that topic.
The 100-piece show winds up raising a more questions than it answers, possibly intentionally, about how gay people throughout the past few centuries created fashion for themselves, and sometimes others, that reflected how they fit into society at the time —or in many cases, didn't fit in. So, the show becomes a glamorous soup of clothes that goes back to styles from times when the closet was more like a bank vault, and people transmitted their sexual preferences though coded dress, and moves on to gender bending media figures like Marlene Dietrich and Noel Coward before turning to designers like Gianni Versace and Jean-Paul Gaultier whose designs became ever more exuberant as gays openly entered mainstream culture. Each outfit seems to represent a different facet of the exhibition's topic, as well highlighting prominent gay people in Fashion including designer and Shophound friend John Bartlett and Barneys "Ambassador" Simon Doonan. Doonan is represented by an late '70s outfit featuring a pair of Vivienne Westwood tartan bondage pants on loan from the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that, we can't help noting, were coincidentally cataloged by a young Shophound as an intern there. Doonan, Bartlett and others are also featured in video interviews discussing what fashion means to them as gay people which further illuminates the show. After an entertaining but fairly straightforward exhibition of elaborate shoe design, A Queer History of Fashion raises interesting questions about exactly what anyone's clothes say about themselves consciously or not, and there may not be simple answers.
Next Fall, FIT will tackle Dance and Fashion, which given the breadth of the current show, could range from ballroom apparel to stage costumes to movie musicals to disco-wear and probably lots of things we wouldn't even think of.
A Queer History of Fashion: From The Closet To The Catwalk at The Museum at FIT through January 4th, Seventh Avenue at 27th Street, Chelsea
FIT Plots Dance Exhibition (WWD)