Queer History of Fashion opens at FIT

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“A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk” opens this Friday, September 13, at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. It’s the first museum exhibition to highlight the contribution of the LGBTQ community to the fashion industry, and it features more than 100 ensembles from 18th century mens-wear to 21st century high fashion.

Renowned photographer Ruven Afanador produced a photo essay for the FourTwoNine magazine print edition inspired by the collection. Learn more here. 

The exhibition, the brainchild of curators Fred Dennis and Valerie Steele, featured an advisory board of eminent contemporary cultural scholars and fashion critics, including Jonathan Katz, Shaun Cole, Peter McNeil, George Chauncey, and Vicki Karaminas.

“For many years, gays and lesbians were hidden from history. By acknowledging the historic influence of gay designers, and by emphasizing the important role that fashion and style have played within the LGBTQ community, we see how central gay culture has been to the creation of modern fashion,” said curator Valerie Steele on FIT‘s website.

While it is widely acknowledged that many in the fashion world are either queer or queer friendly, the fact that much of the inspiration for their fashion designs have come directly from the queer subculture is not.

By tracing the evolution of style within queer culture, its influence on modern fashion movements becomes evident.

The exhibition traces queer style in chronological order, beginning with the rise of dandyism in 18th century menswear, and highlights pivotal moments in queer history- such as the rise of gay activism with the Stonewall riots, the AIDS crisis and the rise of ACT UP, and lends a sartorial eye towards gay marriage ceremonies and the equal rights movement.

The exhibition makes ties between the political movements in queer history and the evolution of style within the culture. It addresses dandyism, androgyny, transgressive aesthetics, drag, leather, uniforms, and the influence of other subcultures on queer style- such as punk, street styles, and fetish clubs.

In an interview with style.com, Steele mentions the leather community’s influence on Versace’s collections.

“You had the whole leather-sex community in the seventies, and then twenty years later you had Versace doing leather ball gowns,” Steele explains.

“Ten years ago I tried to do this and they turned the lights up on me,” Steele remembers Versace jokingly saying about the collection. “They said this looks like a leather bar. Now it’s all socialites in leather.”

Ultimately, the show is about bringing LGBTQ identities to the forefront of fashion in an explicit- instead of implicit- way in order to promote queer visibility and acceptance.

“This is about honoring the gay and lesbian designers of the past and present,” said Dennis on FIT’s website. “By acknowledging their contributions to fashion, we want to encourage people to embrace diversity.”

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