“Man Style” at the NGV – for those who think that men’s suits are dull, grey and boring this exhibition will change your mind. The exhibition is focused on the European 3-piece suit from the mid-18th century to the future. There are suits for formal, military, entertainment and even sporting occasions with riding pinks.
It might be a trivial observation but men like clothes that work the same way. Women will puzzle about how to get into a garment but men just want to put their clothes on the same way so it is little wonder that the basic form of the suit hasn’t changed in hundreds of years.
Although the suit does not speak as much about class as it once did it still retains that implication. The exhibition is only concerned with male fashion from high-end designers. So these are the suits of the dandies, the peacocks, the posers of the era, designer demonstrations that the suit is not dull, like Morrissey Edmiston’s 1993 snakeskin pattern suit and matching suit.
Many of the suits were made by designers to demonstrate how they were updating the suit for the current era. There is a display of future suits from different decades that look remarkably similar and could have appeared in the same sci-fi film together.
In addition to the suits displayed on mannequins the exhibition has portraits of men from the NGV’s collection to illustrate the changing nature of male fashion. One odd aspect of the exhibition is that the bases of all the plinths have b&w images of street art in Melbourne’s laneways.
The exhibition’s focus on the suit ignores other major aspects of male style that have undergone more changes: the male silhouette, shirts, underwear, hats and ties. The 1960s marked a dramatic change in the image of masculinity and formality, only briefly noted with a uni-sex style suit. Not the curators can fit much into the gallery space that the NGV has reserved for fashion on the 2nd floor of Ian Potter Centre at Federation Square (so it continues at the NGV at St.Kilda Road).