The Victoria and Albert Museum launched its leading exhibition on men’s fashion in March, titled Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear, until November 6. Not long after the exhibition’s opening, the London museum is set to release its literary component, which dives deeper into men’s fashion worldwide.
Tracing connections across and beyond European menswear, Fashioning Masculinities celebrates rich traditions and daring individualists to combine fashion with cultural, traditional and artistic histories. The book examines designers, tailors and artists who have constructed and portrayed masculinity from the Renaissance to the current day. Like the exhibition itself, the book focuses on the male physique, shifting standards, its influence on 19th-century costuming and how it looks today.
The book is divided into three parts; Undressed, Overdressed, and Redressed, and provides context into men’s transformative beauty standards over the centuries. Undressed concentrates on portrayals of the nude male body from antiquity to undergarments, Overdressed reveals the power dynamics of sartorial bravado, while Redressed focuses on changes to masculine clothing over the last century and deconstructs a contemporary male uniform: the black suit. While the exhibition closes on a fourth theme, Dressed, displaying Thom Browne ensembles, Harry Styles’ lace Gucci dress for the December 2020 cover of American Vogue, and Billy Porter’s Christian Siriano Oscars 2019 tuxedo gown, the book deep-dives into the significance of these outfits.
Fashioning Masculinities challenges our prejudices about menswear with a staggering breadth of cultural touchstones from Hercules to Virgil Abloh, Jawaharlal Nehru, Yves Saint Laurent and even Captain America. The book reveals the captivating historical sources behind the power, artistry and diversity of masculine apparel and appearance today and the roles played by individuality, history and geography.
According to WWD, Dr Rosalind McKever, Victoria and Albert Museum’s curator and art historian, who edited the book and wrote its opening essay, Do Clothes Make the Man? got Gucci’s creative head Alessandro Michele, British historian Gus Casely-Hayford, and late fashion innovator Virgil Abloh for the introduction, epilogue and afterword. Other contributors include Charlie Porter, Oriole Cullen and Anna Jackson, the custodian of the Asian department at the V&A, who takes the reader through the centuries and explores swagger and its importance in men’s clothing.
While Fashioning Masculinities praises different ideas across cultures, it is embedded in British history, which is ever-present in tailoring and the modern designers who are featured, such as Alexander McQueen, Kim Jones for Fendi, Craig Green and Bianca Saunders, among others.
Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear is available for purchase in the UK and for pre-order worldwide.