Dandy Style is a new exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery, marking the opening of the institution’s new dedicated fashion gallery.
The exhibition opened on 7 October and showcases a selection of costumes, fine art, and unseen pieces from the gallery’s own collection. There are also various loans from other museums and individuals on display.
Dandy Style charts the history and development of men’s fashion in Britain over the last 250 years, inviting visitors to contemplate the multifaceted nature of male image and identity.
The exhibition is split into two sections: the Decorated Dandy, and the Tailored Dandy. The galleries premiere with portraits ‘The Dandy’ and ‘The Tailor’ by Turner Prize winner Lubaina Himid, which introduce the theme of the exhibition. Both galleries present differing interpretations of Dandy Style, and explore how other designers and artists have incorporated it into their work.
Gallery 13 – themed on the Decorated Dandy – considers more daring styles in the collection, and captures the playful side of men’s fashion. The Decorated Dandy is framed as someone unafraid of extravagance, so naturally many of the pieces on show feature vibrant colours and bold prints.
The gallery’s central arrangement includes a jacket and jeans set by Vivienne Westwood, decorated with Boucher’s ‘Hercules and Omphale’, as well as a striking jumpsuit with asymmetric sections of block colour.
The curation weaves the historical and contemporary together. In addition to the modern runway examples, the gallery presents earlier examples of outlandish designs such as expertly embroidered smoking jackets and military-inspired suits.
In contrast, gallery 18, situated on the floor above, celebrates the sophistication of subtlety. Focusing on more subdued pieces, this section documents the changing trends in men’s tailoring.
The inclusion of a series of large-scale photographs in the Decorated Dandy is mirrored in the layout of gallery 18. A comparison between the two captures the contrast in theme, for example, Charles Jeffrey’s striking tartan design is contrasted by the more sober navy suit sported by David Beckham.
To complement this, Next in Fashion finalist Daniel Fletcher’s white and navy two-piece provides an excellent example of a modest but expertly crafted piece. Finally, a tracksuit designed by Fred Perry and Nicholas Daley highlights the potential for experimentation even within more understated designs.
One of the exhibition’s more memorable pieces was Colin Jones’ photograph of Mick Jagger in a Grenadier Guards-style bandsman jacket. The jacket was also pictured on British hip-hop duo Young T and Bugsey. These portraits were displayed alongside a magazine spread featuring Harry Styles in similar attire.
The display highlights Styles’ position as an essential personality in contemporary men’s fashion, with many of his outfits pushing against the gendered boundaries between ‘menswear’ and ‘womenswear’.
Jones’ work speaks not only to the endurance of the 60s influence but also to the relevance of this exhibition at a time of innovation and redefinition in the world of men’s fashion.
Himid’s portraits were certainly highlights of the exhibition. The ‘Dandy’ and the ‘Tailor’ were selected from a collection of five life-sized portraits originally commissioned by the Gallery of Costume at Platt Hall.
Her inspiration drew from the collection of West African textiles in Platt Hall’s stores. This inspiration led to a body of work that explores how clothing aids expressions of masculinity and self-image. For example, Himid describes the ‘Dandy’ as a portrait of someone “who is not afraid to be seen as elegant and bold.”
However, while some pieces were accompanied by quotes from designers and models, at times the display felt impersonal. The development of art and fashion in this context would have benefitted from the inclusion of more emotive, personal testimony.
Overall, the exhibition contrasts historic and contemporary fashion and provides a level platform for each of the art forms displayed.
Curated by Dr Miles Lambert, Rebecca Milner and Dr Shaun Cole, Dandy Style is on display at Manchester Art Gallery until May 1 2023.