Monday, April 25, 2016

UNIFORMITY: Dynamic History of Uniform's Influence on Fashion:Review by Polly Guerin

Uniforms occupy a unique place in our society and resonate with high standards of design both to blend in and stand out. UNIFORMITY, the exhibition opening at The Museum at FIT, May 20, explores the dynamic history behind a variety of uniforms, examining their social roles and their influence on high fashion.

 Traditional uniforms give an individual several reasons why wearing a proper uniform is important--it provides recognition, a sense of pride, dignity, commonality and status. In a way, uniforms are the antithesis of high fashion.  While standard uniform design focuses on functionality, control and tradition, fashion promotes constant change, creativity, and subversion.  Yes, haven't you observed yourself that fashion has often drawn inspiration from uniforms of all kinds, taking functional features and transforming then into decorative elements.

        INFLUENCE ON FASHION: Naval uniforms in particular have had a marked influence on high fashion ever since the late 19th century, wits "middy" collars and "Breton" stripes appearing on sportswear, children's wear and women's  as well as more contemporary pieces from Jean Paul Gaultier and Sacai that utilize distinctive "Breton" horizontal stripes of the French navy.
      UNIFORMITY is organized thematically to focus on four main categories of uniforms, military, work school and sports. The exhibition opens with a display highlighting each of these four themes, incl ding a full Black Watch (Royal Highland) uniform from 1900, a fireman's uniform from the 1950s, a contemporary schoolgirl uniform from Japan, and an eye-popping professional cyclist uniform from 1985.  The exhibition continues its exploration of military
uniforms in the first display, which concentrates on the importance of modern "dress" uniforms, considering how they have evolved over time, as well as howhey differ among the ranks, genders, and the various branches of the armed forces. These are juxtaposed with designs from Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, and Perry Ellis that demonstrate  range of fashionable uses for the deep blue woo and gold buttons of dress uniforms. Image left: Chanel, "Brasserie Gabrielle" ensemble, fall 2015, wool, silk, cotton, leather, France, gift of Chanel.
   Another section focuses on the U.S. military implementation of olive drab service uniforms and cotton fatigues during the 20th century These are represented by a U.S. Army uniform from World War I a WAC uniform from 1944, a World War II Air Force uniform that features a shortened "Eisenhower" or "Ike" jacket, and a cotton jeep coat. UNIFORMITY also moves on to school uniforms with collegiate jackets from the 1920s and 1940;s to contemporary Japanese school uniform.  THE CLASSIC UNIVERSITY BLAZER is a fascinating   
 commentary on identifying the college as a brand and the prestigous logo and distinctive color add to the wearer's status.  Case in point, the Russet-red Princeton University blazer, 1994, wool, USA, a museum purchase stands out in a crowd of pedestrians who dress as if they belonged to a people's army wearing worn, tattered, and dreary clothing.   UNIFORMITY gives us pause to remember that logos, insignias, color and style gives us a sense of authority, status and an air of achievement.
    Ta Ta Darlings!!  Uniformity is on view at The Museum at FIT through November 19, 2016. FREE admission. Museum hours: Tuesday-Friday noon-8 pm, Saturday, 10 am-5pm. Closed Sunday, Monday and legal holidays.  
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