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Actually, FIT's Queer History of Fashion Exhibit was Whitewashed and Terrible

Actually, FIT's Queer History of Fashion Exhibit was Whitewashed and Terrible

The Queer History of Fashion Exhibit at The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) 5 years ago was the first major exhibit to focus on the queer community’s contributions to the fashion industry. I wrote about it several times and felt that I had gotten a lot out of it.

But looking back, it was whitewashed beyond belief. I remember Anita Dolce Vita didn’t stay very long, but I thought maybe she just caught a bad part of it. But no, it was all bad. Literally the only Black person mentioned in it was Janelle Monáe. She wasn’t even out yet. I thought about it for several years and, as I learned more about how racial oppression operates, I realized that Anita was spot on and I should have trusted her even though I didn’t understand what she was trying to tell me. White folks tend to disregard what POC have to say (femmes in particular) — so I’m owning up to this.

I wrote about it fondly at the time, and I’m now coming back to say that I’m older, and looking back, there was nothing good about it — because when you erase all people of color from history, you aren’t presenting anything worthwhile. Most styles originated in POC communities before white people started wearing them, so most likely they were attributing the wrong people.

They left out so many major events in queer fashion history that I can only hope they feel embarrassed now.

They had an entire section of the museum dedicated to AIDS, but there was no mention of the club scene in New York in the 80’s:

 
 Photo from Paris is Burning

Photo from Paris is Burning

 

They didn’t mention Frida Kahlo, who was bisexual and a fashion icon:

In an old black and white photograph, a young Frida Khalo stares deeply into the camera. Her hair is pulled back and parted down the middle. She is wearing a dashing 3 piece men's suit and tie.

Or Bessie Smith, one of the greatest jazz singers of all time. She inspired the character of Betty Boop, who was later attributed to white women.

In this black and white photo, Bessie Smith, a black woman, wears an extravagant flappers hat with a huge feather on top. She wears a white shall, with her shoulder turned to the camera. She is smiling.

But Sonny, surely they featured Marsha P. Johnson!

Nope. No they did not.

Marsha P. Johnson was reported to be one of the first to fight back at the Stonewall Riots. Marsha is thought to be the person who started the entire gay rights movement.

 
Iconic photo of Marsha P Johnson, a Black trans woman, wearing a wide rimmed hat, a golden fabric wrapped around their neck, and a decorative hoop earring
 

Even though the museum is located on stolen land, there was no mention of any Indigenous populations who had many gender nonconforming styles, according to Western standards.

They didn’t mention James Baldwin, who was a style icon in addition to his novels:

The exhibit went up to the present day, where they featured the wedding dresses of Lexi Ritsch and Kim Stolz (who was on America’s next top model in 2005)… but what about Janet Mock? She came out in 2011, a year before they started doing research for the exhibit.

Or Manvendra Singh Gohil, the first openly gay prince in the world:

Indian man with red turban with intricate jewelry, a red  bindi running up his forehead, a mustache, a loose maroon shirt with gold detailing, and a red-orange shall with gold details. He has a beautiful golden necklace with a large tree stone in the middle.

The symposium was also extremely femmephobic: multiple people described “lipstick lesbians” as conforming to heterosexual norms to gain power, rather than having a style of their own.

I think our community deserves and actual, comprehensive queer history of fashion, that upholds Femmes as being warriors. dapperQ and Qwear would like to make that happen. If you want to see it, let us know by sharing this article or hitting the “Like” button.

TL;DR: The exhibit/symposium was all white people and femmephobic. I list of a few essential QPOC fashion icons that the exhibit didn’t even mention. dapperQ and Qwear want to have our own queer fashion history exhibit — “like” or share if you want to see it!

Anthony Urbano: From Structural Engineer To Menswear Blogger

Anthony Urbano: From Structural Engineer To Menswear Blogger

Rainbow Wave: The LGBTQ Election Winners 🎉

Rainbow Wave: The LGBTQ Election Winners 🎉