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Fashion That Bent Gender, at MFA Boston

  • David Bowie - The Man Who Sold the World album cover
March 21, 2019
Balasz Takac is alias of Vladimir Bjelicic who is actively engaged in art criticism, curatorial and artistic practice.

Throughout the centuries, people have been fashioning themselves according to the unwritten social conventions; various garments had different purposes, meaning that clothes had an important role in human interaction. To be more precise, by looking closely at the history of fashion, we can learn much about class, race, and sexuality.

The current exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston called Gender Bending Fashion is an important contribution to history in broader terms, since it explores how important dressing up was for individuals wanting to present themselves as opposed to the traditional gender roles and conquer the public space proudly.

Left Tuxedo worn by Marlene Dietrich Right Jeanne Lanvin - Women evening pants ensemble
Left: Tuxedo worn by Marlene Dietrich in the film ‘Morocco’, 1930. Photo by Eugene Robert Richee/John Kobal Foundation/Getty Images. Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston / Right: Jeanne Lanvin – Woman’s evening pants ensemble, Fall 1935-36. Silk plain-weave crepe, trimmed with gilded leather. Gift of Miss Lucy T. Aldrich. Reproduced with permission. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The Statement and The Resistance

Namely, the relationship between fashion and gender is emphasized in a context of disruption and transcendent of the given roles formatted by clothes. The clothes were used as a rebellious statement and a form of resistance by various artists, intellectuals, and social misfits. Therefore, the exhibition tends to underline the important societal shifts across the past century, especially the ongoing efforts to fight for racial and queer equality, as well as the rise of social media as a powerful tool for self-expression.

More than sixty contemporary designs together with 20th-century garments and photographs are encompassed for the exhibition, as well as fifty prominent designers who revolutionized the society with their designs such as Jean Paul Gaultier or Yves Saint Laurent. Michelle Finamore, one of the curators stated:

Looking back to the past can illuminate hopes for the future. Gender Bending Fashion is a project that reflects the current moment, celebrating designers and wearers who are challenging cultural norms through their work and personal sartorial choices. These trends, however, are not new. This exhibition presents boundary-pushing contemporary designs alongside selections from the MFA’s rich collection of garments from the 20th century—illustrating that the conversation about fashion and gender has historical precedent and yet continues to evolve.

Left Yves Saint Laurent - Le Smoking Right Prisca Monnier - Dandy Queens
Left: Yves Saint Laurent “Le Smoking”, 1976, Kenneth Paul Block. Opaque and transparent watercolor with black marker. Gift of Kenneth Paul Block, made possible with the generous assistance of Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston / Right: Prisca Monnier – Dandy Queens, Paris, 2014. By blackattitude duo Prisca Lafurie Monnier & Catia Mota Da Cruz, blackattitudemagazine.com. Photo courtesy Prisca M. Monnier. Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

The Installment

Gender Bending Fashion is thematically organized into three segments.

The first one called Disrupt features the best examples of changing the traditional Western paradigm of suited men and skirted women. The second one Blur underlines certain periods during which the line between menswear and womenswear was blurred (such as 1960s unisex fashion). The final segment is titled Transcend and it features the contemporary designs that provide a glimpse of a new perspective where gender becomes irrelevant.

Left Alessandro Trincone - Annodami collection Right Viktor and Rolf - One Woman Show
Left: Alessandro Trincone – Annodami collection, Spring/Summer 2017. Photograph by Gioconda & August. Model: Andrea Antonelli. Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston / Right: Viktor and Rolf – One Woman Show – Look 32, Autumn/Winter 2003-4. Designed by: Viktor Horsting (Dutch, born in 1969) and Rolf Snoeren (Dutch, born in 1969). Satin. Viktor & Rolf A/W 2003, One Woman Show, Look 32. Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Gender Bending Fashion at MFA

Finally, this valuable exhibition will underline how gender identity and expression, sexuality, race, class, popular culture, social justice, and activism became interconnected through fashion.

In order to get closer to the visitors, the curatorial team made a digital album including portraitist of ten individuals from the Boston area made by local photographer Ally Schmaling; their perspectives reflect the themes of Gender Bending Fashion, and their standpoints along the portraits are projected on three large screens located between the exhibition segments.

Gender Bending Fashion will be on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston until 25 August 2019.

Featured image: David Bowie’s The Man Who Sold the World album cover, 1970. *Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.