I recently visited the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to see their “Reigning Men” exhibition, which explores the history of men’s dress from the 18th century to present day. It isn’t really about everyday clothes, per se, but rather the extravagant and fashionable (at least within their time). By seeing different eras side-by-side, you get a good sense of how ideas about men’s dress have evolved.
To be honest, I’m the kind of dummy who usually dismisses designer fashion – such as the floral green Vivienne Westwood outfit you see above – but the show does such a great job of putting things in context.
See the outfits in the center and on the far right, for example. In the 18th century, a small group of men known as the Macaroni were famous for their gambling habits and penchant for flashy clothes. They wore things that were considered “feminine” for their age – towering hairstyles, silk stockings gartered with multiple ribbons, and tight-fitting coats with oversized buttons. It’s partly because of them that the dandy movement later came about (which, far from today’s meaning, originally referred to men who wore sober and more “masculine” clothes). Today, the Macaroni name survives through the song “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” which ends with a lyric about a dandy who “stuck a feather in his cap and called it Macaroni.”
I also really like this bright wool coat from Japanese designer Kansai Yamamoto, who’s famous for making some of David Bowie’s stage costumes (including the one with billowing pants). It was placed near this old Inverness cape from Japan’s Edo period. Built much like a Western cape, this one was adjusted to fit over the sleeves of a kimono.
You can check out the “Reigning Men” exhibition from now until August 21st. The museum also has a great, giant book with photos of everything in the show, although I highly recommend going in-person if you can. You can spend hours there and LACMA is even cool with you taking pictures (or drawing) in most of their rooms. Check it out!