“A Queer History of Fashion”

Liberace costume designed by Frank Acuna, 1977. Installation view, Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, New York. Photo: Eileen Costa.

DURING MY TEENAGE YEARS thrift-shopping in Houston, the gay mecca of the South, I would often come upon T-shirts emblazoned with slogans of local HIV/AIDS organizations, each cast-off garment evoking the loss of a friend or a father or a lover. This special ability of clothes to register the presence of queer lives, as well as their historical repression, is thematized in the sweeping survey “A Queer History of Fashion: From the Closet to the Catwalk,” curated by Fred Dennis and Valerie Steele, with exhibition design by Joel Sanders, at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.

Featuring more than one hundred ensembles from the past three centuries, the exhibition has an ambitious scope, starting as far back as a satin-and-taffeta look typical of an early-eighteenth-century British “molly house” during a time when “sodomites” were persecuted and even executed,

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