MFA’s ‘Gender-Bending Fashion’ Magnifies the Shortcomings of Representation in Fashion

by Marie Rodriguez

Fashion and gender are inextricably connected. What we wear informs our notions of gender, and historically, gender has additionally controlled what we will and cannot wear. “Gender Bending Fashion,” a brand new show off at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, surveys the beyond a century of high fashion and prepared-to-put on the style that has challenged and blurred the binary prescription of dress. The show off features modern designers and sartorial icons from Marlene Dietrich to David Bowie inside the context of the historical trends that knowledgeable them, including the garçonne appearance of the Nineteen Twenties and the peacock revolution of the Sixties. As the first essential museum to cope with the intersection of style and gender, the show off has been lauded by Vogue, the Boston Globe, and the Art Newspaper as an exhibit of “Western popular culture’s first-rate moments of binary disruption.”

As someone who researches feminism and style, I desperately desired to like this showcase, too. There have been elements of it that I did. The reality that it even exists is a success, and it capabilities several deserving moments in fashion: One centerpiece, for instance, changed into Christian Siriano’s acclaimed silk purple night fit for Janelle Monáe in 2018. The show-off led to some of the up and coming designers which might be working closer to growing garb that “could be designed for, and worn by using, anybody.”

But what the showcase in the long run magnifies is the pervasive whiteness and straightness of the style enterprise. The “gender-bending” garments featured have predominantly been original for white, cisgender, often heterosexual bodies who have already got the privilege to explore the creative capacity of “cross-dressing” at the runway, instead of for bodies whose identities don’t suit in the prescribed gender binary that has been in addition perpetuated by means of fashion. That’s not to say that the former has been carried out in horrific faith or does now not deserve to be diagnosed, especially due to the fact these models were rightly seen as radical as their time. But we have to well known the white privilege that lets in Tilda Swinton to be heralded an “androgynous icon,” specially while Viktor & Rolf’s 2003 “One Woman Show” inspired through and providing her did no longer consist of an unmarried individual of color. If “gender-bending” fashion and well-knownshows thereof stop at immediately guys wearing skirts and women wearing tuxedos — all of the whilst capitalizing on BGLTQ symbols by making the whole lot rainbow-themed and gambling anthems like “Born this Way” with the aid of Lady Gaga and “PYNK” by way of Janelle Monáe — they run the threat of overlooking actual gender benders. The exhibit’s definitions of phrases related to gender and sexuality — inclusive of the differentiation among the two —are an exact step within the right direction, but they unavoidably feel misplaced while now not observed with fashion that sincerely embodies these thoughts.

Perhaps this shortcoming is greater a mirrored image of the fashion enterprise than the show off itself — in any case, a few would possibly argue that BGLTQ groups have only recently started out to benefit visibility in the public eye. The showcase appears to be particularly self-aware about its lacking illustration: Halfway through, a small description notes that “The MFA started out gathering garb as early as 1899, but many artwork museums did not do so until mid-20th century… Marginalized corporations — inclusive of queer and trans groups and communities of coloration — have been not often represented in mainstream establishments. As a result, style trends that originated in those communities have been obscured or erased, the clothes themselves lost to records.” Still, the result is that clothes like the single zoot in shape featured — a baggy fit popularized amongst African American and Latino teens as a potent, political image in the ‘30s and ‘40s — and Jimi Hendrix’s floral jacket appear to be tokens of variety instead of imperative players in hard the norms of the fashion industry. Where is the representation of drag, for instance, of which there exists ample and racially various gender-bending fashion? Why changed into Rudi Gernreich, a homosexual rights activist who revolutionized unisex clothing in the 1960s, relegated another time to a mere two-garment function, in preference to make a focus?

“Gender Bending Fashion” appears to have magnified, instead of mitigated, the fault lines of the style industry. The showcase’s existence is a hopeful begin — but truly not the stop of style that demanding situations gendered conceptions of dress.

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