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A Rakish History of Men's Wear


September 8th, 2006 - May 6th, 2007

This exhibition surveys men's dress from antiquity to the present, noting how through the centuries male style has swung from ostentation to restraint and back again. Masculine clothing has changed over time owing to a multitude of social, economic, and attitudinal transformations. At first, individuals chose garments that proclaimed their rank or special status as warriors and leaders. Later, sumptuary laws (restricting what could and could not be worn), chivalric codes, and the rituals of royal courts played a role in the development of masculine garments. By the Renaissance and Enlightenment periods, male fashion leaders were admired both overtly and covertly. The growth of a new bourgeoisie in the late 18th century further influenced the outward expression of modern masculinity, as dandies took upon themselves the role of fashion leaders.

A Rakish History of Men's Wear examines such topics as the enduring elements of masculine high style, the influence of the dandy, factors that led to the genesis of the modern suit, and how contemporary casual dress derives from modern popular culture and gender stereotypes. Drawing mainly from materials in the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, the exhibition tells the story of men's dress with an emphasis on the social aspects of costume and fashion history.