By Newlin Tillotson
Providence, RI- Proving men’s fashion to be more than just the basics, the “Artist/Rebel/Dandy: Men of Fashion” exhibit at the RISD Museum in Providence shows a swanky and trend-focused side of men’s clothing.
This timeline exhibit takes a look at the origin of the “dandy,” a man who is style-minded, artistic and bold. It starts with Beau Brummell, the “pioneer” of dandyism in London, who introduced society to fitted, tailored clothing. With Brummell, men’s fashion parted from breeches and stepped into full-length trousers and the modern men’s suit.
Garments such as the coat of Edward Carrington from 1820 reveal opulence in the silk lined collar and silk covered buttons. The broadcloth used in men’s suits at the time was luxurious and allowed tailors to achieve a well-formed fit.
The dandy faced ridicule however, with unfavorable depictions cropping up in England around 1815. “Artist/Rebel/Dandy” includes caricatures from English newspapers of men in corsets and others consumed with trend setting. One of a woman in breeches and a man in a tightly laced corset reads, “For as she is resolved upon wearing the breeches, in revenge he has taken the stays!” The exhibit offers both sides, the artistry of the dandy and the vanity.
As the exhibit moves forward toward modern day, other noteworthy men come onto the scene. Oscar Wilde’s character, Dorian Gray, is highlighted in a 12-part photo series created in 2001 by Yinka Shonibare. The series examines stereotypes and Wilde’s own style. Just beyond the photos are Wilde’s shirts joined by the clothing of Mark Twain and Andy Warhol.
Warhol’s silver wig sits at the end of the display, alongside platform boots worn by Sebastian Horsley. Both accessories highlight the more eccentric style present in men’s fashion.
The exhibit also includes suits worn by movie stars such as Fred Astaire and the female dandy represented in Diane Keaton’s Ralph Lauren suit she wore to the 2011 Academy Awards. But perhaps the most detailed and astounding piece is the Horset, a corset made entirely from horsehair created by Icelandic designer Sruii Recht. The garment was made by Ásthildur Magnúsdóttir, who wove three centimeters a day with hair from the waste products of horse farms and slaughterhouses. It is an interesting mix of delicate material and the structure present in men’s fashion.
As a whole the exhibit examines the evolution of the well-dressed man. Garments that started out as a trend developed into the tailored suits of modern style. The entrance to “Artist/Rebel/Dandy,” summarizes the exhibit’s focus with a statement that reads, “Garbed with great intention and at least a hint of provocation, the dandy is forward-thinking, conscientious and thoroughly artistic.”
(“Artist/Rebel/Dandy: Men of Fashion” is on view until August 18 at the RISD Museum, 224 Benefit Street, Providence, Rhode Island. For more information, call (401) 454-6534.)