St. Louis Art Museum; Exhibition examining 300 years of men’s fashion opens this weekend

ST. LOUIS, June 20, 2017 (STL.NEWS)  Donning lace, silk, leather and plastic, more than 50 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 150 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, 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 as a “deep dive into the forces that have literally and figuratively shaped men’s fashion in a different—and delightful—way.”

“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.”

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.

The presentation at the Saint Louis Art Museum is co-curated by Genevieve Cortinovis, assistant curator of decorative arts and design, and Zoe A. Perkins, textile conservator.

Exhibition programming

The Saint Louis Art Museum will offer an array of exhibition-related programming, including lectures, gallery talks and family programs that expand on the themes of “Reigning Men.”

Sharon S. Takeda, senior curator at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, will share behind-the-scenes stories about the exhibition at the free, opening lecture “Tales of ‘Reigning Men’” on June 23 at 11 am in the museum’s Farrell Auditorium. (Although the lecture is open to the public, the exhibition will be open to museum members only on June 23.)

Former Vogue editor-at-large André Leon Talley will discuss the intersections between fine art and men’s fashion in a dialogue with Eric Johnson, executive director of the Saint Louis Fashion Incubator, and Cortinovis. The June 24 program begins at 2 pm in The Farrell Auditorium. Auditorium tickets are sold out, but tickets for overflow seating will be release on Tuesday, June 20. Overflow tickets can be purchased at the museum or through MetroTix, which charges a processing fee. Tickets are $5; member tickets are free. This program is made possible through a partnership with the Saint Louis Fashion Fund and is part of SLFF’s “Speaking of Fashion” series sponsored by the Regional Arts Commission.

On the last four Sundays in July, the museum’s Fashion on Film series will take a behind-the-scenes look at the fashion world with a series of documentary films highlighting iconic designers and groundbreaking style movements of the 20th and 21st centuries. Films include “The First Monday in May” on July 9, “Fresh Dressed” on July 16, “Bill Cunningham: New York” on July 23, “Iris” on July 30. Screenings begin at 2 pm, and admission is $5 for the public and free for museum members.

In August, the museum will celebrate “Reigning Men” with the theme Fashion Forward during Family Sundays from 1 pm to 4 pm. The free program includes hands-on art activities and a lively 30-minute family tour through the galleries.

A local perspective on the themes of “Reigning Men” will be explored in “American Threads: St. Louis Fashion Tour” on Saturday, August 12 from 10 am to 3 pm. Space is limited for this off-site tour, and advance registration is required. The tour is $50 for the public and $40 for museum members.

SLAM Underground will focus on “Reigning Men” with fashion-related programs and art making on Friday, Aug. 25 from 7 pm to 10 pm. Admission is free. For more information, visit

On Friday, Sept. 1, a panel discussion titled “Hip Hop and Fashion: From the Streets to the Runway” will examine the evolution of hip-hop culture, its impact on fashion and art, and how the musical genre has shaped ideas of black masculinity. The program in the museum’s Education Center begins at 7 pm and is followed by a cocktail hour with a cash bar at 8 pm. Tickets are $10 for museum members and $15 for the public.

Exhibition ticketing

“Reigning Men” ticket prices are $15 for adults, $13 for seniors and students, and $6 for children ages 6 to 12. Tickets to the exhibition are free on Fridays, and it is always free for museum members and children 5 and under. Same-day tickets are available in person at the Museum only while supplies last.

Advance tickets are not required, but recommended for best availability. Tickets are available in person at the museum or through MetroTix. Tickets that are purchased or reserved on MetroTix incur a $3 per ticket processing fee.

Financial assistance has been provided by the Missouri Arts Council, a state agency. The project is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

CONTACT: Matthew Hathaway, 314.655.5493, [email protected]