Now, only a few weeks after the exhibition’s opening, the London museum on Tuesday will release its literary companion, which dives deeper into men’s fashion and style around the world.
The “Fashioning Masculinities” book is comprised of three parts, similar to the exhibition, which are “Undressed,” “Overdressed” and “Redressed,” and provides context to men’s ever-changing beauty ideals over the centuries. While the exhibition displays Thom Browne ensembles, Timothée Chalamet’s black sequined Haider Ackermann suit worn at the “Dune” premiere at the Venice Film Festival in 2021 and Billy Porter’s Oscars 2019 tuxedo gown by Christian Siriano, the book gives an in-depth look at the significance of these outfits.
“We were able to take some deeper dives than we could in the show,” said Dr. Rosalind McKever, Victoria and Albert Museum curator and art historian, who edited the book and penned its opening essay, “Do Clothes Make the Man?” “The texts within the show are much shorter so we’re looking to encourage people to understand the objects.”
Much like the exhibition, the book centers first on the male physique and shifting ideals over time — how that influenced 19th-century tailoring, and how it looks today, represented by bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzenegger, who made his Mr. Olympia-winning body into a movie career, and the muscular stars of the Marvel super hero films.
McKever tapped Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele, British historian Gus Casely-Hayford, and late fashion designer Virgil Abloh for the foreword, epilogue and afterword, respectively, as well as a number of contributors. These include Sarah Goldsmith, author Oriole Cullen and Anna Jackson, the keeper of the Asian department at the Victoria and Albert Museum, who take the reader through the centuries and explore swagger, or “braggadocio,” and its importance in men’s style; hibiscus prints, hats and the jacket, and global fashion history through Black British style, the kimono from Japan and the sari from India.
While “Fashioning Masculinities” honors different ideas across cultures, it is rooted in British history, which is ever present in tailoring, as well as the modern designers who are featured, such as Alexander McQueen, Kim Jones for Fendi, Craig Green, Samuel Ross, Grace Wales Bonner and Bianca Saunders, among others.
“If you’re doing menswear from a British perspective, you’re doing it from a global perspective,” McKever explained. She mentioned Jackson’s essay on the kimono and the garment’s relationship between Japan and Europe, but also the cultural significance of colors like pink in Pakistan, which McKever explained is a “unisex color” in South Asia, and “orange culture,” exhibiting how West African clothing “gives us different approaches to menswear.”
“We wanted to think as broadly as we could as how these collections can best show the audience these stories,” she added.
One of the more modern fashion ideas, genderless fashion, is also explored in the book, which shows how the idea isn’t very novel at all.
McKever wrote a chapter titled “Orlando as a Boyette,” inspired by the Virginia Wolfe novel, “Orlando: A Biography,” where the eponymous protagonist learns halfway through the story that he is a woman and endures “social constraints” in a new, feminine wardrobe.
The novel found its way into the book as McKever decided to read it in leisure to combat writer’s block. She wanted to unpick the history of women adopting menswear and how it is accepted, as well as the rich history of gender nonconformity.
“It was a big of a gift,” she explained. “I used that book as a lens and way of structuring the ideas around these different points in history when, for a variety of reasons, women have adopted menswear. To break it down a little and give women a place in the book, but also to set up the idea that we expressed at the end of the exhibition around the importance of this present moment and the visibility of the dress in menswear.”
But what does contemporary menswear look like to McKever? Contributor Charlie Porter poses the question in the final chapter, looking to today’s menswear designers and their contributions. McKever sees the present as a “moment of opportunity” moving in different directions.
“Fashion always surprises us,” she said. “We never see where it’s going, but it seems to be functioning in a number of directions at once in a very positive way. There is a feeling of maybe more comfort with plurality than there has been previously.”