About the Fashioning Masculinities exhibition

Fashioning Masculinities: The Art of Menswear is the first major V&A exhibition to celebrate the power, artistry and diversity of masculine attire and appearance. Contemporary looks by legendary designers and rising stars will be displayed alongside historical treasures from the V&A's collections and landmark loans: classical sculptures, Renaissance paintings, iconic photographs, and powerful film and performance.

Portrait of a Senegalese man in 18th-century uniform looking away from the viewer in a relaxed pose.
Jean-Baptiste Belley, by Omar Victor Diop, 2014. Pigment inkjet print on Harman by Hahnemühle paper. Courtesy MAGNIN-A Gallery, Paris © Omar Victor Diop

The exhibition showcases the variety of possible masculinities across the centuries from the Renaissance to the global contemporary: from looks by Gucci, Harris Reed, Grace Wales Bonner and Raf Simons, to paintings by Sofonisba Anguissola and Joshua Reynolds, contemporary artworks by David Hockney and Omar Victor Diop, to an extract from an all-male dance performance by Matthew Bourne's New Adventures.

New Adventures, Spitfire – an advertisement divertissement. Director & Choreographer Matthew Bourne. Costume Designer Lez Brotherston. Associate Artistic Director Etta Murfitt. Dancers Will Bozier, Harrison Dowzell, Glenn Graham, Andrew Monaghan, Liam Mower, Dominic North. Featured in Dancing Nation by Sadler’s Wells & BBC Arts, January 2021. Photo: Kaasam Aziz

The exhibition presents around 100 looks alongside 100 artworks, displayed thematically across three galleries, Undressed, Overdressed, and Redressed.

Undressed explores the male body and underwear, looking at how classical European ideals of masculinity have been perpetuated and challenged over the centuries. Plaster casts of the Apollo Belvedere and the Farnese Hermes – which highlight a tradition of depicting idealised male bodies draped in textiles that reveal more than they conceal – will be juxtaposed with fashion by Jean-Paul Gaultier and A-COLD-WALL*, and prints and photography by Lionel Wendt, Zanele Muholi and Isaac Julien.

Model shot of Harris Reed pink historical ensemble next to portrait of Charles Coote, 1st Earl of Bellamont, wearing pink silk
Left: Harris Reed Fluid Romanticism 001. Courtesy Harris Reed. Photo: Giovanni Corabi. Right: Portrait of Charles Coote, 1st Earl of Bellamont (1738-1800), in Robes of the Order of the Bath, by Joshua Reynolds, 1773 – 74. Photo: © National Gallery of Ireland

The second gallery, Overdressed, explores the elite masculine wardrobe, epitomised by oversized silhouettes, lavish materials like silks and velvet in daring colours, and symbolic patterns to express status, wealth and individuality. On display will be armoured breastplates, silky smoking suits, makeup and shaving equipment, sweeping capes, ribbons and lace, including Grinling Gibbons' wooden carving imitating a Venetian needlepoint lace cravat. Through the lens of contemporary fashion designers including Rahemur Rahman and Kim Jones, Overdressed will show how historic ideas begin to shift, with a full rainbow of masculine outfits on display.

Model shot of colourful shirt and trousers by Orange Culture next to historical men's fashion waistcoat and breeches from the V&A collection.
Left: Autumn Winter 2020 Flower Boy two-piece set, by Orange Culture, photographed by Mikey Oshai, image courtesy of Adebayo Oke-Lawal. © Orange Culture. Right: Coat, waistcoat and breeches, 1765 – 70, England. Museum no. T.114 to B-1953. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The third gallery, Redressed, opens with a reflection on English country tailoring and the origins of the suit – with historic garments from the V&A collection shown alongside contemporary reimaginings, including a kilt by Nicholas Daley – before exploring how military attire influenced civilian dress.

Catwalk shot of model wearing Gucci trench-coat next to photograph of model wearing Nicholas Daley kilt.
Left: Alessandro Michele for Gucci. Look 7 FW 2015. Courtesy of Gucci. Right: Nicholas Daley, LOOK 8, AW17 Blackwatch collection. Photo: Man Kit Au-Yeung

Redressed will also include paintings as well as extensive photography showing changing styles and attitudes, from Oscar Wilde, Claude Cahun and Cecil Beaton to The Beatles and Sam Smith. Robert Longo's 1981 drawing from the series Men in the Cities will introduce the final part of the section about the dissolving of the suit, and how a new wave of fashion designers from Rick Owens to JW Anderson to Comme des Garçons to Lesiba Mabitsela are slashing away at conventions, both for menswear, and masculinity.

Drawing of man in a suit next to a photograph os Sam Smith wearing a suit
Left: Robert Longo, Men in the Cities, 1981, graphite on paper. Collection Thaddaeus Ropac, London · Paris · Salzburg · Seoul. © Robert Longo / ARS New York, 2021. Photo: Ulrich Ghezzi. Right: Sam Smith photographed by Alasdair McLellan, Sam wears cotton poplin tie-neck shirt by Hermes. Black wool oversized blazer and navy wool pinstripe trousers by Random Identities.

Outfits worn by familiar faces will be interspersed throughout, from Harry Styles and Billy Porter to David Bowie and Marlene Dietrich. Innovative creations and diverse representations will highlight and celebrate the multiplicities of masculine sartorial self-expression, dressing beyond the binary.

Nude man leaping in mid-air
Nude 1, by Anthony Patrick Manieri, April 2016, London, England. © Anthony Patrick Manieri
Header image:

Gucci Pre-Fall 2019 Men's Tailoring Campaign. Creative Director: Alessandro Michele. Art Director: Christopher Simmonds. Photographer & Director: Harmony Korine. Courtesy of Gucci.