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A Queer History of Fashion Exhibition

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by Nadine Cresswell-Myatt (subscribe)
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FREE exhibition at FIT
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When you have an exhibition of gay fashion it adds new meaning to the expression "coming out of the closet."

Surprisingly the exhibition A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk is the first exhibition of its kind.

And it is an important undertaking and is as much a social history of the gay community as it is a look at some amazing ensembles.

A portrait of the writer Oscar Wilde, who was a dandy of a dresser, is one of the first sights of note.

Wilde once quipped, "Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months." Although there was tragic side to his silver tongue and flamboyant dandyism. He was imprisoned for what he described as "the love that dare not speak it's name" and sentenced to two years hard labour which in the 19th century England meant just that. A broken man both physically and mentally he died just three years after his release. He was only 46

It took historian Valerie Steele, chief curator, and Fred Dennis, senior curator of costume two years to assemble the 100 fascinating costumes on display.

Exhibits go back past Wilde to the 18th century through to more contemporary times.

Gay fashion is really a list of Who's Who in the fashion world

Highlights include an outfit by Coco Chanel who introduced androgyny to post-World War I women's fashion in Paris. While she was legendary for her affairs with men, her lesbian side has more recently come to light.

There is also a glamorous outfit worn by the bisexual actress Marlene Dietrich whose androgynous look is much lauded and copied by fashionistas.

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Many of the most famous fashion designers of the past century have been gay. There are outfits from iconic designers such as Christian Dior, Cristobal Balenciaga and Pierre Balmain.

A hallmark outfit is the the loud red sequinned cloak worn by
Liberace in 1977.

There is Jean-Paul Gaultier's "cone bra" dress (and yes he designed Madonna's pointed booby dresses) and Gianni Versace's "bondage" collection showing how what happens in the bedroom can make it onto the catwalk.

On this topic you must check out Vercace's leather bondage ball gown.

The AIDS crisis gets a special mention with outfits from designers such as Perry Ellis, Halston, and Bill Robinson who all died of AIDS in the 1980s. Behind these is a backdrop of HIV sloganned t-shirts from the period.

Touchingly the last few outfits are wedding outfits worn by gay couples married after the repeal of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act.

The historian Valerie Steele says "I hope the exhibition will get people thinking about how much LGBTQ (lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender-queer) people have contributed to fashion, both individually, as designers, trendsetters… but also politically, collectively, with the rise of styles associated with gay culture."

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Why? For fashion and culture
When: Museum hours: Tuesday-Friday, noon-8 pm; Saturday, 10 am-5 pm. Closed Sunday, Monday, and legal holidays.
Phone: (212) 217-5800
Where: 7th Avenue New York NY 10001-5992 Cross Streets 27th Street
Cost: FREE admission
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