Sunday, October 13, 2013

Queer History of Fashion

at the Fashion Institute of Technology

On the last day of fashion week, the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) held the opening of its exhibition, "The Queer History of Fashion: From Closet to Catwalk". We attended both the press event in the morning and the gala party later that evening. The clothes and exhibit made us swoon and the people-watching was amazing. What's not to love, right? In an attempt to convey the most amazing visuals and experiences of that day and evening and sort through the sensory and style overload, we have divided the images into two categories.  First, let's talk about the exhibition.  That's why we were there in the first place.  If you scroll down a little further, we'll give you some idea what the party was like.


It makes sense that there would have been gay dress long before the 20th century, but that the Museum was able to give some examples is amazing. Here, two 18th century costumes. The gown on the left echoes middle eastern costume; the one on the right was of a style worn by cross dressing men ("mollies") who frequented inns ("molly houses") that catered to that clientele.

The exhibition has a very broad scope. Included are clothes that signaled the gay subculture, clothes made by gay designers, clothes worn by gay celebrities and clothes that obscure gender lines. Below, a pants suit worn by Marlene Dietrich.

This dress, called La Sirene, is a Charles James design. The countless tucks on this dress make it stunningly form-fitting and flattering, and the color calls attention to the workmanship.

A Quentin Crisp suit and an outfit made of Crisp's bed ticking are included, but no Crisp outfit is complete without the man himself. Here, a picture of Crisp (picture by Freemantle Media Ltd./Rex Features), who loved colors and wore them with exemplary panache.

In the five minute video below, Crisp - a wonderfully gifted speaker - is interviewed by Penny Arcade, who says that Crisp is held by many to be the first gay activist. Watch the clip till the end, where Crisp deftly defines the difference between style and fashion, and explains why nobody ever talks to him about the weather. (It's not part of the exhibition, but we thought you'd enjoy it.) For our younger readers, we suggest you watch The Naked Civil Servant - the TV movie (1975) about Crisp's life made from his book by the same name. You can see segments of it on YouTube. John Hurt is outstanding as Quentin Crisp.

This wonderfully outsized hardshell tuxedo was worn by Klaus Nomi, and modeled after a suit David Bowie wore when Bowie, Nomi and Joey Arias performed on an early Saturday Night Live program.

Designer Andre Walker made this paper dress in 1989 for the Love Ball, an AIDS fundraising benefit party. Fashioned from paper and synthetic twill, it is still in amazing condition.

Moschino cotton sateen rayon and denim vest 1992 and Geoffrey Beene's 1989 paper dress for the Love Ball fashioned from newsprint paper and chenille.

Thierry Mugler 1996 dress (cotton and synthetic stretch) worn by performer Joey Arias and John Paul Gaultier's infamous 1984 Cone Bra dress (velvet).

Gianni Versace's 1991 suit with Warhol-inspired print, made in Italy of cotton and silk.

Thierry Mugler 1987 lame and satin gown and 1992 linen, cotton, leather and metal suit worn by Scott Ewalt.

Rudi Gernreich's unisex caftans.

Gianni Versace's Fall/Winter 1992 leather, satin, metal evening ensemble.

Rick Owens' Fall 2009 cashmere and leather dress and boots worn by Karlo Steel.

And of course a RuPaul outfit.

The last three pairs of outfits in the exhibition are the wedding clothes worn by one gay and two lesbian couples. Two women wore traditional wedding gowns; the men wore quiet suits. The two non-traditional outfits shown here were worn by Hannah Barrett and Laurel Sparks, who define themselves as "dandy Rasputins".

The exhibition is full of information that we could not possibly pack into a short blog, but never fear - there is an accompanying book by the same name as the exhibition - A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk - with this arresting and thought-provoking cover featuring Jenny Shimizu wielding a huge lipstick.

And if you're thinking of going to the show in person, you have until January 4, 2014 to see it, but we suggest you go SOONER rather than later.  And now, on to ...


Dr. Valerie Steele and Jean at the morning press event.

Valerie and a fashion journalist at the press event.

Sandy Long outside the museum before the morning press event.

FIT's press chief, Cheri Fein, wearing a fabulous tactile metal necklace with moving parts.

Before we go any further, we have to thank our dates for the evening.

Valerie went as the guest of Rolly Robinson of StyleCaster (he who was kind enough to take a gazillion pics of us when we did our scooter shoot). Thank you, Rolly!

Jean was invited by David Noh of Gay City News. Thank you, David!

A gentleman in a white suit and strappy harness.

A gentleman sporting a handcuff brooch.

Dueling cameras.

Okay, how many of you out there can pull off this dress? Or match it with sky blue opera gloves?

Milliner Rod Keenan, left (wearing a Margiela shirt designed with loosened tie sewn in and skirt-pants), and illustrator Robert Richard, right.

Name this dress! It showed up in a recent fashion magazine. Looks GREAT on this woman!

Another great dress!

We ran into Ari Seth Cohen of Advanced Style looking quite colorful.

The dapper Robert Bryan, milliner Gretchen Fenston and her husband Roddy Caravella.

Susanne Bartsch and Ansoni.

Vogue's Hamish Bowles.

Jeff Sanders and Eddie Casson.

Photographer Rose Hartman.

Christopher Stevens, Marcia Resnick and Corey Grant Tippen.

Louise Doktor and Tim John.

We were photographed by Bill Cunningham for the New York Times, but failed to make the final cut. We are often the bridesmaids, and seldom the brides. Just in case you didn't believe us.

Sharp-eyed readers will notice that Valerie changed outfits between the morning and evening events. Unfortunately, Jean went back to the office and was stuck until the very last minute and had to dash "as-is" to the gala.  C'est la vie! Until next time, kiddies!


  1. I'm looking forward to seeing this exhibit when I'm in NY, but I so wish I could have gone to the party! I've seen so many of these people in different posts of yours I feel like I know them

    Thanks so much for posting the Quentin Crisp video, so much wisdom from a delightful spirit. Now I have to find the film.

  2. Yes! Sensory and style overload. My favorite state of mind.