UNIFORM BEHAVIOR: Contrary to its name “Uniformity,” the new exhibition at The Museum at FIT is not about the simplicity of a day-in, day-out look. Whether meant to allow the wearer to blend into a crowd or to not be missed, uniforms first and foremost require functionality.
Seventy items from the museum’s permanent collection are classified in four groups — military, work, school and sports. Mainbocher’s World War II design for the U.S. Naval Reserve’s Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Services helps to illustrate how modern dress uniforms evolved over time. The gallery also houses gold button-studded blue wool designs from Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent and Perry Ellis. The long-lasting influence of naval uniforms can be seen in Breton-striped looks from Jean Paul Gaultier and Sacai. Historians will learn such asides as how heavy braided threads were used for preventive measures from hand-to-hand combat in the 18th and 19th centuries. They will also find a Black Watch uniform from 1900 and a fireman’s uniform from the Fifties.
Pop culturalists will be more eager to see such throwbacks as Stan Herman’s polyester uniform for McDonald’s workers that debuted in 1975. Another signature look from that time are the designer’s synthetic blend creations for TWA flight attendants. Herman, who now designs uniforms for JetBlue and UPS, is still fan of the now-closed Eero Saarinen-designed TWA terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
The school uniform section of “Uniformity” opens with an Eaton suit circa 1930 and includes such designers as Rudi Gernreich’s 1967 “Japanese Schoolgirl” ensemble and a Thom Browne 2006 gray flannel suit. On view through November 19, the exhibition also has an array of athletic looks including Geoffrey Beene’s sequined 1967 football jersey dress, as well as ones from Gucci and Stella Jean.
The show is being staged at a time when a few designer companies are designing new uniforms. Zac Posen is busy creating new ones for Delta’s 30,000 staffers. American Airlines recruited Cole Haan to create an exclusive line of accessories for its employees this fall. In September, American Airline staffers will wear new uniforms from Twin Hill that build off a Kaufman Franco design. And Seattle-based designer Luly Yang is redesigning uniforms for Alaska Airlines’ 12,500 employees.