Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear at the V&A
The Victoria and Albert Museum celebrates the evolution of male aesthetics with Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear. A vast collection of iconic outfits as well as sculptures, books, paintings, video clips and photography, it offers much more than an overview of the mainstream fashions that have dictated how men should dress. The exhibition focuses on the grey areas that, throughout history, saw the standard view of masculinity challenged and reinvented. By retracing all deviations from the norm, it is possible to see how originality and transgression paved the way for an increasingly freer approach.
The material on display is not presented chronologically, but rather according to the themes and trends that emerged over the centuries and invariably came back in a different shape at a later point. The first topic is the naked body, with a particular focus on the image of Apollo, often considered the epitome of male beauty. The fascination with idealised bodies is then reprised by Da Vinci and Dürer in their studies on anatomical proportions. Over time, a desire was born to achieve that idealised body shape through diet, exercise and the right clothing. In more recent times, designers have created tightly fitted undergarments to accentuate and sensualise the male body in a way that was usually reserved for female attire. All of this is merged into one section named Undressed.
Another section looks at the suit, a menswear staple that recently suffered a great blow due to the pandemic and saw sales halved. Then there are clothes from past centuries juxtaposed with their modern reinterpretations, and a nod to iconic musicians and their influential styles. One of the central themes of the exhibition is the fluidity of gender identity: there are many examples of extravagant outfits from different epochs highlighting the blurred boundaries between the masculine and feminine, culminating with the tuxedo gown worn by Billy Porter at the 2019 Oscars, and the Gucci outfit worn by Harry Styles on the cover of US Vogue – both of which caused a stir.
Fashioning Masculinities strives to capture the diversity and flamboyance that can be expressed through male clothing, and although it would be impossible to cover the subject comprehensively, there is enough material to make it an enticing, fun and instructive experience.
Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear is at the V&A from 19th March until 6th November 2022. For further information visit the exhibition’s website here.