“Reigning Men” is a Sun Shower of Aristocrats & Dandies, Punks & Mods
Across the world and throughout time, the gentleman of fine dress has always presented himself as a man of distinction. He earned the name “dandy,” from the British in the late eighteenth century, a name that has stuck for its foppish effervescence and its thumb to gender norms. It’s always been in vogue, though it tends towards an exclusive lot, a group of men who feel compelled to dress for the occasion of life itself.
In celebration, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art presents Reigning Men: Fashion in Menswear, 1715–2015, a magnificent tribute to the evolution of male style over three centuries, on view now through August 21, 2016. Curated by Sharon S. Takeda, Kaye D. Spilker, and Clarissa M. Esguerra from LACMA’s Costume and Textiles department, the exhibition features 200 looks, taking us from the heights of aristocracy down to the streets with punk. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue of the same name, co-published by LACMA and Prestel/DelMonico.
Drawn primarily from the museum’s collecton, Reigning Men is presented in five sections: Revolution/Evolution, East/West, Uniformity, Body Consciousness, and The Splendid Man. The opulence is simply astounding, offering a theatrical vision of life, where people had the wherewithal to be garbed in any number of exquisite costume. There is nothing utilitarian about the older looks, unless one was to consider listening to life music while seated in brocade chairs.
It’s absolutely beguiling to consider that once upon a time men fancied a cutaway with breeches, hose, and a fat cravat. With wigs upon the heads, pomp becomes pomposity. Yet contemporary designers like Vivienne Westwood have embraced these historic looks bringing them back centuries later in outrageous colors and shapes making the old new once again.
Looking at the men’s fashion in the long view, Reigning Men illustrates the brilliance of the male form as its own set of lines upon which to draw. Men, being rather straight in shape, lend themselves perfectly to a single look from top to bottom. The variety of detail is a treasure trove of visual decadence. From sequins, gemstones, metallic lace, to animal furs, floral patterns, and camouflage uniforms, there’s something for everyone.
Reigning Men ultimately reminds us that masculinity is a construct, one of enduring grace, that constantly reinvents itself to embrace the challenges of the day. As fashion reveals, there is no limit to imagination and where it can take us, all the more so as it clothes and garbs us in a presentation of self that is read by the culture at large as a sign of prestige, status, and wealth. Taken as a whole, Reigning Men is an inspiring study of the masculine expression of glory, splendor, and grace.
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.