Saint Louis Art Museum’s “Reigning Men” exhibit

By Cillah Hall

If you are interested in history, fashion or both, you absolutely have to see Reigning Men: Fashion in Menswear 17:15-2015,  currently being presented at Saint Louis Art Museum. The exciting exhibit, drawn primarily from the collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, heads to Australia after the St. Louis presentation, which runs through Sept. 17. It takes you on a journey to defining periods in history when men’s fashion reigned; and along the way, shows the depth of its influence on classic trends that have faded from a man’s wardrobe but now predominantly exist in womenswear. The rich, global, cultural influences are captured in each garment, from fabulous fabrics and vibrant colors, to sequins and cutting-edge design that we see in modern day, not only in high fashion, but hip-hop culture, as well.

As you go through each exhibit, you will notice that through the — more so in the last 40 years — menswear has taken a back seat, comfortably settling into a new norm of what is acceptable of a gentleman in today’s society. Occasionally, celebrities like Pharrell Williams, who push the boundaries of fashion, give us a glimpse of what is possible as we explore the future of fashion and the ambiguity that is emerging between feminine and masculine clothing. But is it the future, or are we subconsciously taking a step back in time when men elaborately partook in activities of dress that required a footman to assist with the ritual?

As the exhibit explores time periods when waist-clinchers, thongs and bodysuits were worn by men, the feminine influences raise the question of what really is appropriate gender fashion. Though we generally think of fashion’s history as more conservative than modern day, it appears that, in fact, fashion was more cutting edge and androgynous as far back as three centuries ago.

Gazelle STL takes a look at how menwear from various eras has influenced today’s woman through the lens of the trends we see on celebrities and couture runways. We have barely touched the surface of the exhibit, which features more than 90 mannequins, donning at least 150 looks from the most influential fashion eras that date as far back as the Macaroni era in the 1700s, when aristocratic young men began to dress more fashionably.


For a complete listing of the exhibition’s programming, visit



Featured photo on homepage: Kean Etro, Italian, born 1964; for Etro, “Ensemble” (detail), Fall/Winter 2014-15, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, gift of Etro. Photo © Museum Associates/LACMA