St. Louis Art Museum to Host ‘Reigning Men,’ 300 Years of Men’s Fashion

Men's fashion

Jeremy Scott, American, born 1975; with Adidas, “Boots”, Spring/Summer 2013; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, gift of Jeremy Scott. Photo © Museum Associates/LACMA


ST. LOUIS – Donning lace, silk, leather and plastic, more than 90 mannequins are nearly ready to meet visitors at the Saint Louis Art Museum, which presents a 300-year history of men’s fashion that opens to the public on Sunday, June 25. The exhibition “Reigning Men: Fashion in Menswear, 1715–2015” features more than 130 looks while tracing cultural influences over the centuries. The exhibition examines how elements of the uniform have profoundly shaped fashionable dress, and reveals how cinching and padding the body was—and is—not exclusive to women.

Reigning Men is drawn primarily from the renowned collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), which organized the exhibition.

On May 17, the Costume Society of America honored Reigning Men with its Richard Martin Exhibition Award, which recognizes outstanding costume exhibitions. Critics also have praised “Reigning Men,” including the Los Angeles Times, which called the exhibition a “deep dive into the forces that have literally and figuratively shaped men’s fashion in a different—and delightful—way.”


Men's fashion

Johnson Hartig, American, born 1962; for Libertine, “Ensemble” (detail), Fall/Winter 2009-10; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, gift of Johnson Hartig. Photo © Museum Associates/LACMA

“Fashion has not been a major collecting area for the Saint Louis Art Museum, so we felt a project based on scholarship and objects of exceptional quality would be an appropriate and exciting addition to our schedule,” said Brent R. Benjamin, the Barbara B. Taylor Director of the Saint Louis Art Museum. “Because of the extraordinary collection and curatorial expertise of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, ‘Reigning Men’ is an exhibition we were eager to bring to St. Louis.”

The exhibition explores the history of men’s fashionable dress while re-examining the equation of “fashion” with “femininity.”


Men's fashion

Coat,” France, c.1800; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, gift of B. Rich. Photo © Museum Associates/LACMA


Beginning with the 18th century, the male aristocrat wore a three-piece suit conspicuous in make and style, and equally as lavish as the opulent dress of his female counterpart. The 19th-century “dandy” made famous a more refined brand of expensive elegance which became the hallmark of Savile Row. The mid-20th-century “mod” relished in the colorful and modern styles of Carnaby Street, and the 21st-century man—in an ultra-chic “skinny suit” by day and a flowered tuxedo by night—redefines today’s concept of masculinity.

Organized into five thematic sections, “Reigning Men” highlights many factors that have influenced menswear over the last three centuries. “Revolution/Evolution” illustrates the dialogue between social and political events and men’s fashion. “East/West” observes how international cultural exchanges have introduced new materials and silhouettes to menswear. “Uniformity” explores the critical impact military and working uniforms have had on men’s fashion. “Body Consciousness” demonstrates that over time men have been just as preoccupied with enhancing their physiques as women. Finally, “The Splendid Man” considers how fashion designers throughout history have challenged traditional notions of menswear and masculinity.

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