All Photos: Courtesy FIT
Schoolgirl. Naval officer. Nurse. No, these aren’t the latest sexy Halloween costumes at Ricky’s NYC—though they well could be. They’re just a sampling of the types of uniforms on display at the Museum at FIT’s immersive new exhibition, “Uniformity.” Curated by assistant curator of costume Emma McClendon, the exhibition probes our relationship with uniforms as markers of authority, servitude, sport, and style through a grouping of ensembles held in FIT’s collection. And if a series of cop outfits doesn’t seem all too interesting, well, think again.
McClendon has grouped the show by theme—military, service, sport, school—and presents high-fashion iterations alongside their real-world inspirations. “The interplay between uniforms and fashion is fascinating because they seem completely opposed,” McClendon told Vogue.com from her office at FIT. “Uniforms are all about control, keeping tradition, keeping everything standardized, and creating a uniform aesthetic across every single person, whereas fashion is increasingly about self-expression, breaking the rules, and having a sort of power of creativity in the design. They seem like they could never really go together, yet we constantly see uniforms coming up in fashion and getting used by fashion designers in a lot of different ways.”
Some of the more riveting fashion world examples from McClendon’s show include Geoffrey Beene’s sequin football jersey–inspired dresses, Karl Lagerfeld’s riffs on waiters’ uniforms at Chanel, and Jeremy Scott’s take on McDonald’s golden arches from his Fall 2014 collection for Moschino, all propped up beside the real-world uniforms that inspired them. Still, the most predominant category in the show is military uniforms.
“Military uniforms really started to come into fashion in the 19th century, in particular, in women’s outerwear where you start to see all these military elements appear; it has never really gone away since,” McClendon says. “We see military notes coming back again and again in everyday clothing, like the peacoat, the Breton shirt, the army green field jacket. These are pieces that have become basic elements of our wardrobes, and so as a result, they’re not even subject to trends as much, but we’ve definitely seen a resurgence of military elements coming into play on the runway too.” Fleshing out the many military displays in the show are pieces like Comme des Garçons’s military suiting, Michael Kors’s camouflage gown, and Sacai’s artsy Breton stripes, as well as archival uniforms that date back as early as World War I.
McClendon attributes fashion’s continued interest in army details to a dual interest in power and subversion. “Ultimately, what we’re talking about here with uniforms and fashion is predominantly—obviously not always—but predominantly taking a garment designed for a man to give that man authority and then putting it onto a woman’s body and making it decorative. That subverts; it’s transgressive. It really changes the entire meaning and challenges the original meaning. There becomes this interplay between the original message and the garments that have been created.” Maybe we’re not too far from those sexy cop costumes after all . . .
“Uniformity” is open at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, 227 West 27th Street, New York, through November 19, 2016.