Today the Westminster Menswear Archive announces the most extensive exhibition devoted to menswear to be staged in the UK.
Drawing exclusively from the Westminster Menswear Archive, Invisible Men covers the last 120 years of predominately British menswear through the display of over 170 garments, the majority of which have never been seen on public display.
Opening in October 2019, the exhibition is arranged into twelve sections, presenting designer garments alongside military, functional, and utilitarian outfits. It explores the design language of menswear which predominately focuses on the replication of repeats archetypal functional garments intended for specific industrial, technical or military use.
Invisible Men will illustrate how designers have disrupted these conventions through minimal, yet significant modifications to produce outcomes that both replicate and subvert their source material. Through this approach, the language of menswear has developed an almost fetishistic appreciation of the working man in all his heroic iterations, referencing the clothing of seafarers, soldiers, athletes, firefighters, road workers, and explorers.
The endless replication, appropriation and interpretation within menswear has meant that the meaning and function of the original archetypes has faded through each reiteration.
This design strategy has, for the most part, allowed men and what they wear to avoid scrutiny: these garments have remained invisible within fashion exhibitions in favour of presenting menswear largely as the story of the dandy or the peacock male.
This exhibition aims to shine a light on these invisible men.
Professor Andrew Groves, the curator of Invisible Men, said: “Both in museums of the decorative arts or dedicated fashion museums, menswear is significantly underrepresented. Despite the explosion in fashion exhibitions in recent years, menswear is still marginalised or excluded from the history of dress. Its inclusion often framed in the well-worn tropes of the ‘dandy’ or ‘peacock’.
I started the Westminster Menswear Archive in 2016 through frustration that students and designers in industry were unable to see historically important examples of menswear, which is not the case with womenswear which is readily available in exhibitions and galleries. Within the last three years, we have amassed over 1700 examples of menswear design, and the archive has proved extremely popular with students and industry visitors alike.
We are beginning now to tell the untold story of menswear, and I’m incredibly excited that this exhibition will allow the public to see highlights from the collection, most of which have never been on public display before. I am also hopeful that it will lead to other institutions and museums to address the history of menswear in a more meaningful way and to give it the prominence that it deserves within their exhibition programmes.
Dr Danielle Sprecher, the curator of Invisible Men, said: “This exhibition showcases the strength and diversity of the Westminster Menswear Archive collection and its significance as an educational and research resource. The range of pieces that we have means, for example, that we can display an original USAF 1950s flight jacket alongside a variety of different designer interpretations. By giving our students the opportunity to study original garments, the collection feeds their creativity and design knowledge.
Highlights of the exhibition include:
A section devoted to examples of Alexander McQueen’s early menswear designs covering the years from 1997 to 1999.
A section devoted to the C.P. Company Urban Protection range that was launched in 1998 and has been highly influential on a generation of menswear designer
Examples from contemporary British menswear designers including Craig Green, Liam Hodges, A Cold Wall*, Aitor Throup, Burberry, and Palace.
A range of designer ‘source garments’ covering military, industrial and occupational garments including items from the British Army, the Royal Air Force, Greater Manchester Police, the General Post Office, and Her Majesty’s Prison Service.