Fashion in ‘Power Mode’

How we dress says quite a lot, a topic examined once again through a new exhibition at The Museum at FIT in Manhattan.

“Power Mode: The Force of Fashion” explores, we learn, “the multiple roles fashion plays in establishing, reinforcing and challenging power dynamics within society.”

WAG attended the recent press preview and toured through the dynamic exhibition by the show’s curator Emma McClendon.

McClendon, associate curator of costume at the museum, told us, “The exhibition is looking at the question of what makes a garment powerful.”

The show, she further explained, is divided into five sections, each devoted to a particular influence and, McClendon reminded, power is “relative” to a particular time and place.

The first section, “Dressing for Battle,” is devoted to military uniforms and their transformation and inspiration into fashion items worn by civilians. (We were captivated by a Burberry by Christopher Bailey ensemble). Status dressing, “Status as Style,” explores everything from luxurious brocades from the 1700s to “it” bags coveted in modern times.

The power of the suit is the focus of the following section, “Suited Up,” explored from its history to its contemporary interpretations – including the idea of “the power suit.”

Next, the exhibition looks to resistance dressing, “Fashioning Resistance,” from printed T-shirts (think the iconic AIDS awareness symbol, “Silence = Death”) to what it means, in certain situations, to don a black leather jacket.

It all wraps up with sex, exploring objects associated with sex and sexuality from corset tops to high heels to lingerie.

“This, really more than any other section, highlights the tension that exists in power dressing,” McClendon added.

Throughout, the journey digs deep, as both men’s and women’s clothing and accessories are featured with pieces representing the 18th century through today, with items often juxtaposed to create a pointed statement. Throughout, work represents designers that include Fendi, Gucci, Jean Paul Gaultier, Chanel, Ralph Lauren, Thom Browne, Vivienne Westwood, Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior and many others.

While McClendon said she was not pretending that “this is comprehensive,” the exhibition does provoke quite a bit of thought.

“Power Mode: The Force of Fashion” continues through May 9 in the Fashion & Textile History Gallery at The Museum at FIT, on the campus of the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan.

For more, visit fitnyc.edu/museum.

Mary Shustack

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