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A Queer History Of Fashion - From The Closet To The Catwalk

by Michael  Cox
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Saturday Nov 2, 2013
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Valerie Steele, director of the Fashion Institute of Technology, explores a topic that surprisingly few have examined in "A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Cakewalk,". She sets out to trace the archaeology of queer attire, its genesis and its influence on mainstream fashion trends.

The book, created to accompany the exhibit conceived by co-curator Fred Dennis and currently running in New York City, contains six fascinating essays and an overview by the editor. Here, Steele has gathered some of the world’s most acclaimed scholars of gay history and fashion - including Christopher Breward, Shaun Cole, Vicki Karaminas, Jonathan D. Katz, Peter McNeil, and Elizabeth Wilson.

"By deliberately acknowledging what gay people have done for fashion," says Steele, "we’re shedding a whole new light on the subject."

These informative essays trace our gay apparel from some suggestive costuming of the early 17th Century, through "out"-fits for mediated postfeminist identities, to clothing that is overt, politically affiliated and activist. Along the way are sumptuous full-color photographs of pieces from the exhibit, including an 18th Century dandy’s suit, a sexually ambiguous lady’s riding costume by Pierre Balmain, Jean Cocteau and Christian Bernard, a Gaultier’s orange velvet dress for men with conical bosoms, and even activist drag from 1903.

Associated with the kabuki drama (often a front for sex-work and male to male sexual activities,) this fashion carried with it tensions of cross-dressing, innuendo and eroticism.

Particularly interesting is the chapter by Peter McNeil titled "Conspicuous Waist: Queer Dress in the ’Long Eighteenth Century.’ " It looks at clothing and culture that hinted at an open secret, lurked in clandestine clubs and branded lifestyles for which men could be executed. Educational and interesting details about the pretty gentlemen of the time period - the molly, the macaroni and the man-milliner - fill these pages.

There is even information on the kabuku aesthetic of Edo Japan. Associated with the kabuki drama (often a front for sex-work and male to male sexual activities), this fashion carried with it tensions of cross-dressing, innuendo and eroticism.

Oct 29, 2013
248 p., 7 1/2 x 10
100 color illus.
ISBN: 9780300196702
Cloth: $50.00

To purchase the book.
For more information on the exhibit.

by Valerie Steele

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