I’ve just returned from a whirlwind trip to New York, the purpose of which was to play guide to my friend Jill and a pair of twenty-four year olds who wanted to experience the big city. As such, fashion things were not number one on our list, but Jill and I managed to fit in two exhibitions. First up is Uniformity, the latest at the Museum at FIT.
Uniforms are not fashion (though they can be fashionable) but they do influence fashion and designers. The museum chose to show this influence though four categories of uniforms: sports, school, work, and the military. Above, the curator, Emma McClendon, set the stage by giving us an example from each category, with an extra military uniform thrown in for good measure.
Perhaps that is because there are so many military influences in fashion that the category deserved extra representation.
Here we have on the left, a US colonel’s dress blue uniform from the 1950s. It does not take a lot of imagination to see how designer Mainbocher took the men’s original to develop the US Navy WAVE uniform of WWII, center. It does take a bit more of an imaginative stretch to see how Coco Chanel was inspired by blue military uniforms, but there it is in the brass buttons and navy wool of her suit from around 1960, right.
And that is how great designers work. A garment is not so much copied as it is re-interpreted.
On the right you see the famous “Ike Jacket”, named for General Eisenhower, who favored the style. During the war, and even afterward, the style became a favorite of both men and women as returning GIs found the jacket to be functional for civilian wear ( My father-in-law’s well-worn Ike jacket still hangs in the coat closet of his home.) Designers like Claire McCardell adapted the look, as in her shorts ensemble shown above. Note the bit of red plaid halter top, with was definitely not a part of the uniform.
On the left is a 1998 jacket and skirt from Comme des Garcons designer, Rei Kawakubo. It is a pretty faithful copy of an olive drab men’s army jacket, but the sleeves have been ripped away. Literally. You can’t really tell from the photo but the armholes are rough and a bit frayed. On the right is Marc Jacob’s 2010 “army” jacket, which he paired with a long, romantic skirt.
Probably my favorite grouping of the exhibition was this one featuring the influence of the sailor’s uniform. In the middle you see the typical summer and winter uniforms of a midshipman. Though they seem timeless, the white suit is from 1912 and the navy is from 1915.
With their middy collars, the midshipman influence in these two very different dresses is unmistakable. On the left is an 1890s dress made of red and white cotton, and intended for casual summer day wear. One might even attempt a round of tennis in such a dress. In an interpretation from the late 1950s, designer Norman Norell turned the dress into a luxury look, using silk instead of the expected cotton. This dress was definitely not for playing tennis.
You might have mistakenly thought that the center look is a typical French sailor uniform, but instead, this is one of designer Jean Paul Gaultier’s many adaptations of the mariniere, or Breton shirt. In 1984 Oscar de la Renta did a sequined version for evening. The lace and striped look on the right is from designer Chitose Abe for her label, Sacai, 2015.
Work uniforms also influence fashion. The flight suit of aviators has been adapted into fashionable looks many times. The suit on the right could be a uniform if not for the bright pink color. Made in 1976 by Elio Fiorucci, this jumpsuit came to the museum from Lauren Bacall.
Another work uniform that has been much adapted is the typical French waiter’s costume. This ensemble is from Karl Lagerfeld for Chanel in 2015, so you may remember the Chanel show that was staged like a Parisian Brasserie. All I can see that that perfect cardigan.
Though designed for children and very young adults, the school uniform also has been an influence on fashion. The blazer dates to 1825 when members of a rowing team at Cambridge University wore “blazing red” jackets. The garment became associated with college men’s uniforms. On the left is what is thought to be a Princeton blazer from the 1920s. The one on the right is a 1944 Princeton blazer. Today the blazer is more associated with office attire, but it still has preppy connotations.
Here we see an influence of an influence. The 1927 girl’s school uniform of the left clearly mimics the sailor’s uniform with the navy color and tied collar. Unfortunately, you can’t tell that the uniform also reflects fashion in the dropped waist and pleated skirt. On the right is designer Rudi Gernreich’s 1967 version of the schoolgirl’s uniform. The sailor influences are still present.
Also go back to the very first photo. What looks to be an additional school uniform is one, though it is from Japan and dates from a much more recent era.
And finally, you can see the influence that sports uniforms have on fashion. In 1967 designer Geoffrey Beene made fashion news with his sequined football jersey dress. It was featured in all the best fashion magazines. In the middle is the real thing, a 1920s football uniform. The craziness on the right is from Stella Jean.
The outfit on the right is very interesting. It really could be mistaken for a uniform for an active sport, but it is actually from French designer, Ungaro, 1969. It’s like he was inviting the wearer to join Team Ungaro. The set on the left is a cycling ensemble fro the 1980s, and the Swiss jersey on the wall is from 1972.
It’s interesting how sports teams have capitalized on their uniforms by marketing hats and jerseys to the general public. Is that fashion?
I really enjoyed this thoughtful and well-presented exhibition. We went late, an hour or so before the 8 pm closing, and we pretty much had the place to ourselves. I really loved having Jill with me, as although she does love pretty clothes, she is a professional educator, not a fashion-obsessed crazy like me. She was seeing some of these concepts for the first time, and I loved the way the museum made the crossover between uniforms and fashion so clear to her.
Now through September 16, 2016.