This weighty, lavishly illustrated book accompanies an exhibition of the same name, currently showing at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (now until 21st August 2016). The intention of both is to explore the history of fashionable menswear and prove that by no means did women have the monopoly on style; fashion in the 18th, 19th, 20th and 21st centuries did not necessarily have to equate with femininity. The point is made eloquently and pretty comprehensively – in words as well as pictures.
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Fashioning the Body –
An intimate history of the silhouette
You might imagine that a book devoted to undergarments – for this is essentially what Fashioning the Body is all about – would content to confine itself to the history of lingerie (with the odd pair of Y-Fronts thrown in for the sake of fairness and balance). Not so, though. ‘An intimate history of the silhouette’ means just what it says – this is a book that examines how the shape of men, as well as women, has been determined over the centuries, by what has been going on underneath layers of outer clothing.
Going straight to the last chapter of this in-depth study, Shaun Cole tackles the issue of… er… tackle in his text New Underwear and Notions of Virility in Contemporary Society. Just as the Wonderbra enhanced breasts, so, he reminds us, have certain brands, like aussiebum’s ‘Wonderjock’, Shreddies and Andrew Christian, devised underwear specifically engineered to ‘push-up’ and emphasise the genitals. ‘Show-It Technology, in the words of one manufacturer. And why not, if it’s good enough for the girls…
And there’s nothing new in all this of course. Skip back to chapter one and what do we have but the cod-piece. A fairly innocent triangle of cloth in the 14th century, by the 16th century it had become a brazenly visible pouch, often stuffed and aimed at highlighting the penis and sometimes simulating an erection. Incidentally, the word ‘cod’ in Middle English, meant scrotum… who knew?
The book isn’t all about rude bits though. Other elements of the body have been emphasised, contorted and controlled through undergarments – some of which were pretty much instruments of torture… and it wasn’t just women who wanted to present the silhouette of the moment. According to Sophie Lamotte’s essay, the 19th century new man was taking shape thanks to corseted stomach belts and padded calves. The life of a dandy was probably a pretty uncomfortable one – waists had to be small, torsos prominent, shoulders drawn back and calves curvy.
Written by a mix of established scholars and students of fashion, clothing and textiles, this book was inspired by exhibitions on lingerie and is illustrated by beautifully detailed photos of historic garments, as well as various portraits, historic advertisements and cartoons.
Edited by Denis Bruna
(£35.00 BGC Yale)
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