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Tracing Fashion’s Queer Influences

How have LGBTQ individuals been making fashion statements since the 18th century? The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology seeks to answer that question with an exhibit opening in September called, “A Queer History Of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk.” “Shows are intuitive. We had no idea gay marriage was going to blow up like it did so it was very timely,” said exhibition curator Fred Denis, who spent two years putting together the show. “This industry — fashion designers, photographers, stylists, etc — has a hug gay and lesbian population and it always has but no one has ever said it. It was time we kind of addressed it on some level. We’re looking at fashion history through a queer lenses.”

Read more on the FIT exhibit here.

Below, Denis takes us through a few pieces in the exhibit.

2. John Paul Gaultier Collection, 1984

Museum of FIT

“There was always this [idea] that gay men tortured women with fashion but I don’t think that’s correct,” said Denis. “We don’t put women into clothes they don’t want to wear. John Paul Gaultier, openly gay, chooses in some of his collections to hyper-feminize the female body and that’s what he’s doing here. He’s totally dramatizing it.”

3. Man’s three piece suit, 1790-1800

The Museum of FIT

“When we started this project, we thought, ‘Oh we’ll probably pick it up in the early 20th century,’” said Denis, who was able to trace gay fashion influences all the way back to the late 18th century. “The very aristocratic 18th century male was a peacock and that was acceptable. By the end of the century, aristocracy shied away from [flamboyance] but gay men didn’t.”

4. Day dress circa 1882

The Museum of FIT

“Oscar Wilde was a big proponent of romanticized clothes,” said Denis. In the 19th century, “people were wearing black and tailored suits, Oscar was wearing velvet breeches, big collars and earth tones. It was very much a flamboyant style.”

5. Levi’s jacket, Mr. Pearl corset, Abel Villarreal pant, Weco boots

The Museum of FIT

“We wanted to talk about subcultures and tribes. This is an example of a street look from back in the 1990s — that leather, fetish-y kind of look.” said Denis.

6. John Bartlett Collection

The Museum of FIT

In the ’90s, “we start to see these club and underground looks creeping into the mainstream fashion world. Versace did the same thing with that whole series of leather bondage skirts, all coming out of club street looks,” explained Denis. “John Bartlett is taking a street look and doing it as high fashion.”

7. John Paul Gaultier Collection

The Museum of FIT

“John Paul Gaultier did this look where he was doing lots of kilts for men circa the 1990s. It was very much not a traditional kilt done with men’s suiting fabric,” said Denis. This look “was on the runway but this belongs to a man in France and he used to wear this out clubbing in the 1990s.”

8. John Paul Gaultier Collection

The Museum of FIT

“This collection was based on Heldrich Chris and renaissance. The jacket is from 1988,” Denis said. The color-blocking seen here “was done in the early renaissance. This is an example of taking visual arts and referencing it in your work.”

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