Exhibition Dates: November 4, 2003 – February 8, 2004
Exhibition Location: The Costume Institute
Throughout the history of Western dress, women have borrowed elements of men's clothing. And yet the reverse has rarely been the case. Nowhere is this asymmetry more apparent than in the taboo surrounding men in skirts. Bravehearts: Men in Skirts, an exhibition opening at The Metropolitan Museum of Art on November 4, looks at designers and individuals who have appropriated the skirt as a means of injecting novelty into male fashion, as a means of transgressing moral and social codes, and as a means of redefining ideal masculinities. In an unprecedented survey of "men in skirts" in historical and cross-cultural contexts, the exhibition will feature more than 100 items drawn from The Costume Institute's permanent collection, augmented by loans from cultural institutions and fashion houses in Europe and America.
The exhibition is sponsored by Jean Paul Gaultier.
"Since 'the great masculine renunciation' of the late 18th and early 19th century, men have tended to follow a more restricted code for appearance," commented Andrew Bolton, Associate Curator of The Costume Institute. "From the 1960s, with the rise of countercultures and an increase in informality, men have enjoyed more sartorial freedom, but they still lack access to the full repertoire of clothing worn by women. Whether the acceptance of the skirt for men is viewed as a threat or a promise, Bravehearts: Men in Skirts will intrigue and provoke."
Beginning with a visual and theoretical presentation of gender-specific clothing, the exhibition explores how certain groups and individuals have promoted the skirt for men as the "future" of menswear. For example, groups such as "hippies" have placed the wearing of skirts in a utopian society in which gender distinctions have been obviated and unisex clothing the norm. This idealized future and the novelty of the skirt form have inspired visionary designers such as Rudi Gernreich and Walter van Beirendonck. By promoting the skirt as an item in the utopian wardrobe, these designers present the skirt as a hypothetical ideal.
The exhibition will explore how skirts have exposed the male leg to display male prowess throughout history. Skirts worn in ancient Greece and Rome projected the ideals of youth and virility, a form of hyper-masculinity that is also projected by the Scottish kilt. As the exhibition reveals, the kilt has proved to be one of the most potent, versatile, and enduring skirt forms. Designers like Jean Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood, and Dries van Noten have often looked to the kilt as a symbol of a natural, uninhibited masculinity. Their work reveals that the ability of the kilt to remain recognizable while responding to changing fashions and consumer demands has been instrumental in maintaining its popularity.
A comprehensive survey of skirted garments worn in Asia, Africa, and Oceania will reveal that there is no natural link between an item of clothing and masculinity and femininity, but instead an arbitrary set of culturally specific associations. The exhibition will show how designers have looked to these cultures for sources of both inspiration and legitimization. In particular, they have focused their "Orientalist gaze" on the Chinese robe, the Japanese kimono, the Indian lungi and jama, the South Asian sarong, and the Middle Eastern and North African caftan or djellaba.
Men who have wished to characterize themselves as resistant, rebellious, or simply contrarian have adopted skirted garments as a sign of their refusal to meet societal expectations. The exhibition will conclude with the ways in which various youth and countercultural movements such as punk, grunge, and glam rock have adopted the skirt as a means of transgression and self-expression. Skirts worn by musical icons such as Boy George and Adrian Young of No Doubt will be among the highlights of the exhibition.
Designers and fashion houses represented in the exhibition include Miguel Adrover, AmeriKilt, Giorgio Armani, John Bartlett, Ozwald Boateng, Bodymap, Leigh Bowery, Burberry, Roberto Cavalli, Christian Dior Haute Couture, Comme des Garçon, Dolce & Gabbana, Dries van Noten, John Galliano, Jean Paul Gaultier, Rudi Gernreich, Tom Ford for Gucci, Tommy Hilfiger, Juicy Couture, Donna Karan, Kenzo, Michiko Koshino, Sandra Kuratle for AMOK, Alexander McQueen, Andrew McKenzie, Moschino Couture, Philip Sallon, Paul Smith, Stuart Stockdale for Pringle of Scotland, Anna Sui, 21st Century Kilts, Utilikilts, Walter van Beirendonck, Vivienne Westwood, and Yohji Yamamoto.
Bravehearts: Men in Skirts is the expanded version of the exhibition Men in Skirts at the Victoria and Albert Museum (2001), and will be organized by Andrew Bolton, Associate Curator of The Costume Institute. A fully illustrated book, available in hardcover ($40.00), will accompany the exhibition.
The Museum's Web site (www.metmuseum.org) will include a special feature about the exhibition.