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A Rakish History of Men's Wear: A NYPL exhibition

von Rothbart

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Oct 29, 2004
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I just found out, pardon me if I double post.


A Rakish History of Men's Wear
From September 8, 2006 through April 7, 2007
Edna Barnes Salomon Room (Third Floor)
Humanities and Social Sciences Library, 5th Avenue and 42nd Street, New York, NY 10018-2788 (directions)
Hours: Click here for schedule

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.
Press Release

The Story of Men's Fashion Told Through Its Rebels and Rakes, in New Exhibition at The New York Public Library

A Rakish History of Men's Wear on view from September 8, 2006 through April 7, 2007

Survey of Men's Fashion From Antiquity to the Present

"Caricature of a Dandy." Hand-colored engraving, ca. 1818. The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Print Collection.
From tight hose and doublets to codpieces and the wasp-waisted frock coat that preceded the modern suit, the history of men's fashion is featured in A Rakish History of Men's Wear, a new exhibition at The New York Public Library. Opening September 8, 2006, the exhibition brings together nearly 200 illustrated books, prints, photographs, and watercolor sketches in a survey of men's dress from antiquity to the present. Drawing mainly from the Library's Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division's Art and Architecture Collection, the items on display tell the intriguing story of how men's wear swung between ostentation and restraint until the early modern era. The exhibition pays particular attention to the rakes and rebels, from George "Beau" Brummell in the 19th century to style icons like Sean Combs today, who have defined masculine dress. The exhibition is curated by Paula Baxter, Curator of the Library's Art and Architecture Collection.

"As the world of fashion launches its fall runway shows inside and around the Library, A Rakish History of Men's Wear provides an opportunity for viewers to trace the social, cultural, political, and aesthetic influences that have shaped the development of men's fashion," said Paul LeClerc, President of The New York Public Library. "The Library's rich trove of historical costume and fashion plate materials are an invaluable resource for anyone interested in understanding the forces that have shaped styles of dress from antiquity to today."

Included in the exhibition are gorgeous hand-colored etchings by Raphael Jacquemin (1821-1881) and chromolithographs by Auguste Racinet (1825-1893), fashion illustrators and historians who worked during the golden age of 19th-century fashion design publishing. Also included are several simple, yet elegant, colored posters by Edward Penfield (1866-1925), a master illustrator known for his cover art for Harper's. More contemporary men's fashions are demonstrated by advertisements for brands such as Ralph Lauren, Versace, Giorgio Armani, Comme des Garçons, and Vivienne Westwood.

"The Library's Art and Architecture Collection is widely used by both scholars and working designers," said David S. Ferriero, Andrew W. Mellon Director and Chief Executive of the Research Libraries. "It preserves a wide range of documentation that serves not just fashion designers, but also artists, architects, graphic designers, advertisers, costumers, set designers and many others looking for inspiration from the past in the works they are creating for contemporary audiences."

"Changes in the design of men's clothing serve as fascinating gender markers, telling us much about enduring masculine values," said exhibition curator Paula Baxter. "In addition, the role of the dandy has proved to be a greater social force than most people realize. In selecting items for A Rakish History of Men's Wear, my aim has been to demonstrate how and why men's wear has evolved into the garments that we know today."

"Louis XIV." Hand-colored etching by Raphaël Jacquemin, from his Iconographie gÃ
rale et mÃ
thodique du costume du 4e au 19e siècle. Vol. 3 (Paris, 1869). The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Art & Architecture Collection.
Clothes Become the Man: A Chronological and Thematic Journey

Organized into ten thematic and roughly chronological sections, the exhibition begins with an overview of styles, trends, and themes that have marked more than two millennia of men's wear. The idealized bodies of warriors and athletes are seen in Racinet's survey of ancient Greek masculine dress from his Le costume historique; revivals of Greek dress and armor design reappear regularly over the centuries. The preference for ostentatious fashions by

monarchs such as Louis XIV, the better to reflect their exalted positions, is seen in Jacquemin's study of "The Sun King." Likewise, men's desire to appear sexually attractive has been a constant motivation in masculine dress from the beginning of civilization. Young men, perpetually anxious to make a good appearance, devised and flaunted new fashions, such as the tight, brightly-colored hose depicted in the colored engraving "Young Venetian from Calza" from Costume du Moyen age.

Sumptuary laws (which restricted certain fashions to men of specific social status), chivalric codes, spiritual and martial values, dandyism, and the growth of a bourgeois middle class radically altered the nature of men's wear. By the 19th century, a male preference for subdued black garments took hold. Later in the century, men's clothing took a back seat to the vagaries of women's fashion. Yet the contemporary taste for street chic in suits and casual clothes shows that men still possess a style-consciousness with deep roots in the past.

A Matter of Rank and Arms and the Man

The exhibition's second section explores man's historical penchant for clothes that identified his social rank and occupation. Not surprisingly, popes, emperors, kings, and nobles dressed with a luxuriousness that was unavailable to the common man. The loose silk robes of the Emperor of China, from Edward Hargraves's A Collection of the Dresses of Different Nations, Ancient and Modern, contrasts greatly with the robes worn by Arab nobility; nonetheless both costumes confer great authority on the wearer. Magnificent garments were expected of those in the highest echelons of society, such as those in the papal court, as seen in a curious fold-out book from the 19th century, Corte e milizie pontificie.

No occupation has influenced men's fashion, both ancient and modern, more than the military. Knights, such as those depicted in A Critical Inquiry into Ancient Armour by Samuel Rush Meyrick (1783-1848), dressed with special attention to their importance in society and were frequently innovators of new fashions. Doublets and trousers went from being specialized military garments to fashionable dress for everyday civilians. Linen armorers, those who fitted soldiers with padded garments to wear under their armor, developed sewing techniques that gave rise to the art of tailoring. In the 20th century, advances in technology accelerated, and innovations in clothing fabrics, fasteners, and metallic components were adopted for civilian wear.

High Life Versus Low Life and Power Dressing

The exhibition's fourth section explores Western fascination with regional and folk dress. As book publishing continued to grow over the centuries, representations of masculine costume increased in printed books. Often these illustrations depicted the dress of foreign or exotic cultures, such as the hand-colored engraving of "A Koriak, in His Dress of Ceremony," by William Alexander (1767-1816). These illustrations also manifest Western regard for Middle Eastern costume, whose robes and turbans influenced Italian and Northern European dress as early as the 15th century. An anonymous engraving of an "Egg Merchant" in Turquie, Egypte, Grece is representative of the style.

"France XVIIIe--Le beau monde." [18th-century-France--High Society.] Chromolithograph by Auguste Racinet (1825-1893), from his Le costume historique. Vol. 5. Paris: Firmin-Didot et Cie, 1888. The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Art & Architecture Collection.
In the fifth section, "Power Dressing," masculine dress demonstrates the complexities of power and social responsibility. Two images of Edward VI of England by Hargrave, from his Ancient and Full Length Authentic Portraits, show the power of the royal courts to set fashion trends. Fashion also signaled differences between nations. In an engraving depicting Louis XIV of France and Philip V of Spain in A Collection of Dresses of Different Nations, Louis's ostentation proclaimed his absolute ruler status, while Philip's subdued appearance emphasized the piety of the Spanish court. The codpiece, seen in Jacquemin's engraving of Henry II, initially a practical padding for the ********, became a fashion statement when the padding and gussets were enlarged to aggressively emphasize the wearer's virility.

Peacocks and Puritans Lead to The Age of the Dandies

As the exhibition's sixth section demonstrates, deep divisions over how a man should dress developed by the Enlightenment. On one hand, Puritanism, well established as a social force, condemned gaudy display and promoted sober garments. On the other hand, the 18th century trend toward extravagance in male dress created the first dandies, as seen in the fashionable men and women promenading together in Racinet's study of "Le beau monde." In England, the Macaronis stretched the boundaries of masculine style, employing notable affectations such as tall wigs, red-heeled shoes, white face paint and rouge. Also in this period, the color black became more firmly entrenched among all classes of men.

The 19th century witnessed the beginning of English dandyism. The new leading man of fashion no longer had to be a ruler or courtier, since the dandy made this role a self-defined prerogative. The ultimate arbiter of dandyism, George "Beau" Brummell (1778-1840), adopted a new axiom: the well-dressed man's clothing should not be noticed. Good taste dictated clothing should be restrained in color and impeccably tailored. The period witnessed the growth of style guides for men, such as The Whole Art of Dress!, or the Road to Elegance and Fashion by an anonymous author, on display here. Fine linen, well-cut coats and trousers, neat ties and cravats all became standard wardrobe gear.

Sobriety in a Suit to Taking it to the Streets

"TheTwo Suitors." Pen-and-brush drawing by Charles Dana Gibson (1867-1944), published in Life, December 11, 1913. The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs, Print Collection.
The tailored man's suit became the great social leveler of the 19th century. The breakdown of the aristocratic leadership continued and, with more egalitarian notions in place, it became less necessary for men to emphasize distinctions of social rank. No image captures this notion better than Charles Dana Gibson's pen-and-brush drawing, "Two Suitors," which features a poor but handsome young man and a wealthy older man--in identical evening wear--competing for the affection of a lovely young woman. America took the lead in the 20th century with the ready-to-wear industry, devising technological advances that created a reliable source of clothing for all men. Tailors worked on standardized master patterns, a technique borrowed from the United States Army, and the proliferating department stores disseminated suits of a fairly uniform nature.

The ninth section, "Stars and Stereotypes," explains how, as the mass media expanded in the 20th century, men's clothing became increasingly defined by popular culture. The new media created iconic figures to serve as the heirs of Brummell, men such as Rudolph Valentino, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., John Wayne, and Jim Morrison. Actors, musicians, and other public figures projected rakish masculinity in their choice of dress. Two important offshoots of the warrior role, the cowboy and the athlete, particularly personified masculine values. These archetypes appear regularly in the media throughout the century, from Penfield drawings to advertisements for Ralph Lauren.

Contemporary masculine fashions move at an ever-faster pace, thanks to global communication. Today's fashion-conscious man occupies mainly urban streets. From hip-hop to prison chic, young men still bring flair to casual clothing. Gay men contributed to fashion by promoting dress that accentuated their masculine bodies, and also understood the ironically fetishistic nature of such street wear as baseball caps and black leather. Two pages from Tom of Finland's Retrospective illustrate this trend. Furthermore, as artists Sean Combs and Andre 3000 demonstrate, the role of the dandy as a fashion leader is still, albeit in slightly different context and form.

Curatorial Talks
In conjunction with A Rakish History of Men's Wear, the Humanities and Social Sciences Library's fall series of free lectures and classes, "Reflections on Culture: Fashion, Styles, and Trends," explores the ideas of "fashion" and "style" in the broadest sense. For more information and a complete listing of programs, visit http://www.nypl.org/research/calenda...l/schedule.cfm.

Gentleman Prefer Black: A Rakish History of Men's Wear
Wednesdays, September 13; October 11; November 8; December 13, 12:30 p.m.
Paula Baxter, Curator of the Wallach Division Art & Architecture Collection, considers the powerful social forces behind the transformation of men's dress, based on historical precedents and the demands of modernism.

Fashion on Stage
Tuesdays, October 17, 3:15 p.m. & December 12, 6:00 p.m.
Barbara Cohen-Stratyner, Curator of Exhibitions at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, discusses how entertainment and fashion have been intertwined throughout the past century.

Fashion on the Map: Exploring National Dress as Decoration on Antique Maps
Tuesday, September 26, 6:00 p.m.; Thursday, October 26, 3:15 p.m.;
Tuesday, December 19, 6:00 p.m.; Wednesday, January 17, 6:00 p.m.
Alice Hudson, Chief of the Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, lectures on the rich insights into history that antique maps offer, specifically in their decorative aspects. The program will focus on fashion as it appears in map margins.

Reform Dressing: Garments and Banners of the Suffrage Campaigns in England and the United States
Tuesdays, September 12, 6:00 p.m. & November 14, 3:15 p.m.
Barbara Cohen-Stratyner examines color codes and iconography of suffrage banners as well as the on-and-off fashions of suffragists around the country.

The Selling of Style
Wednesdays, September 20, 3:15 p.m. & October 18, 6:00 p.m.
John Ganly from The Library's Science, Industry and Business Library focuses on the two hundred years of people, places, and events that sold New York style, as documented in books, periodicals, pamphlets, documents, and electronic databases.

Docent Tours
Free public tours of A Rakish History of Men's Wear are conducted Tuesday through Saturday at 3:30 p.m. Groups of ten or more people must make reserved group tour arrangements; call 212.930.0501. Reserved group tour fees are $7 per person for adults and $5 for senior citizens; there is no charge for full-time students.

A Rakish History of Men's Wear is on view September 8, 2006 through April 7, 2007, at The New York Public Library's Humanities and Social Sciences Library, Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street, in the Edna Barnes Salomon Room on the third floor. Exhibition hours are Tuesday and Wednesday, 11:00 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.; Sunday, 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. (except December 10, 24, 31); closed Mondays and national holidays. Admission is free. For more information about exhibitions at The New York Public Library, the public may call 212.869.8089 or visit the Library's website at www.nypl.org.

Lucky Strike

Distinguished Member
Mar 13, 2006
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Stumbled upon this article about the exhibition:
The present male uniform began to emerge in the 14th century as an unintended consequence of military innovation. The body-fitting plate armor that we now admire in museums was replacing mail of the earlier Middle Ages. New craftsmen, the linen armorers, emerged to construct padding to cushion warriors' new exoskeletons, cutting and stitching pieces of cloth to fit the body. Those artisans, Anne Hollander declares in Sex and Suits (Knopf, 1994), "can really count as the first tailors of Europe."
Beau Brummell, an Etonian from an upstart middle-class family, established a new aesthetic. English pre-Revolutionary dandies like the Macaronis (best known now through "Yankee Doodle") had copied elaborate flourishes like the richly embroidered waistcoats of French aristocrats. In place of such overt luxury, Brummell introduced more subtle but equally painstaking and meticulous detail, admired by intellectuals like Baudelaire for turning the self into a work of art. Dark fabrics contrasted with immaculate white shirts and matching neckcloths that could take an hour to tie properly. And just as the medieval knight's silhouette in a pointed helmet resembled a Gothic arch, the late-18th- and 19th-century Western man in his top hat echoed the smokestacks and chimney pots of growing cities.
In today's office, the rakish dresser is the tall poppy, standing out to be downsized "” raked away. Even violators of the corporate dress code echo conservative stereotypes: Steve Jobs's blue jeans, black turtlenecks, and rimless glasses combine to mark him as the officiating worker-priest of design. If there is a new rebellion in costume, it is the middle-class tattoo, recalling a plate of Pictish body art at the beginning of the library exhibition. Well-off businessmen are said to be wearing the most elaborate designs "” discreetly. But men have largely given up using clothing as a means of expression in the workplace. Rather, suits are more useful than ever for shielding people's true selves.


Distinguished Member
Apr 4, 2006
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Originally Posted by von Rothbart
Gentleman Prefer Black: A Rakish History of Men's Wear
Wednesdays, September 13; October 11; November 8; December 13, 12:30 p.m.
Paula Baxter, Curator of the Wallach Division Art & Architecture Collection, considers the powerful social forces behind the transformation of men's dress, based on historical precedents and the demands of modernism.


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