Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear | Victoria and Albert Museum | Review

Friday 8 April 2022

Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear
Victoria and Albert Museum
Reviewed on Thursday 7th April 2022 by Olivia Mitchell 

In its current exhibition, the Victoria and Albert Museum celebrates the growth and evolution of male aesthetics with Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear. A vast collection of outfits from throughout history and interspersed with paintings, photographs, sculptures and video clips  to offer up a look at how masculine fashion has changed and moved with the times. It looks at the times when the 'traditional' or 'accepted' view of masculinity has been challenged and how these deviations have paved the way for move fluidity and freedom in fashion.

The exhibition is displayed in a fairly structure free way, allowing you to make your own path and experience it however you wish. The loose structure is organised by trends and themes, much like the fashion industry itself. Of course we know that trends repeat themselves but it's interesting to see it laid out physically before you. As you enter you are greeted with naked bodies, specifically those of Apollo and Hercules, the original male ideals of beauty. The section points out how anatomical research and a desire to look a certain way, led to the understanding of wearing more tightly fitting or tailored pieces to showcase the body. 

As mentioned, the showcased cyclical nature of fashion is key to this exhibition with almost every style returning in some way, at some point. It's interesting how the original, puffy shirt worn during the regency era has yet to make a comeback despite corsets coming back with a vengeance; perhaps the new season of Bridgerton will take us back to those roots! 

It's also great to see how small changes and reinterpretations to a classic outfit can have such a huge impact. For example: the suit. A staple in wardrobes for most people, the way in which celebrities have elevated it is well showcased. The addition of leather trousers may seems simple but when you see it in the context of Fashioning Masculinities it's quite amazing how it set off a domino for development and freedom.

The main aspect of the exhibition is how men's fashion is evolving so much now in terms of gender fluidity, with some of the most eye-catching outfits being those from the brilliant designer Harris Reed as well as those at the very end:  Billy Porter's tuxedo dress worn at the 2019 Oscars and the iconic blue Gucci dress worn by Harry Styles on the cover of US Vogue. Both these outfits sparked many conversations, even for those who don't follow either the stars or the fashion.

Sponsored by Gucci, a lot of the exhibition is indulgent and luxurious but it's a real eye opener on how high street fashion keeps up with trends and how deviations in the norm can have effects which reach all of us eventually without us even realising. Fashioning Masculinities is by no means an exhaustive exploration but it certainly whets your appetite to find out more and shines light on how diversity and uniqueness can be captured through male clothing. 

Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear runs at the V&A Museum until 6th November 2022