"The apparel oft proclaims the man," claims Polonius in Shakespeare's Hamlet, but Mark Twain elaborated the concept further when he stated "Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society."
This statement is the opening slogan of the free exhibition "ManMode: Dressing the Male Ego", on display until today in the History Gallery of the FIDM Museum, Los Angeles.
The event explores three centuries of menswear, via several mannequins, plus a selection of garments and accessories from the FIDM Museum collection.
The ensembles present clothes from a man's wardrobe selected from different centuries and project boldness, confidence or vanity via bright colours, sharp silhouettes or decorative embellishments, embroideries and prints.
There are quite a few highlights from past centuries including a three-piece court suit worn by Austrian musician Johann Hummel (c. 1810-1814) and an early 19th century coat worn by the Royal Company of Archers in Scotland (c. 1822).
Rather than being practical and functional like modern athletic wear, this rare piece is characterized by a fashionable silhouette influenced by King George IV's (1762-1830) interest in fashion.
The coat - in a "Sherwood Forest" green shade referencing the stories of Robin Hood and his archers and featuring crossed arrows in the center of each gilt button - wasn't actually designed to be worn on the playing field, but at a formal occasion such as the Archery Ball.
Victorian fashion is represented by a tailored evening suit by Basel Durant, and by a robe incorporating intricately colourful paisley embroideries from 1867.
Some garments offer food for thought to visitors via clever juxtapositions: two outfits from 1969 - a Space Age jumpsuit by Ruben Torres (the Los Angeles Times wrote about it: "The man in the space suit this fall need not be an astronaut, he might just be your banker or your broker.") and a caftan by Rudi Gernreich - represent two sides of the coin, technology and the Space Age and hippy fashion.
A robe with matching swimming trunks with prints of athletic divers from 1938 sits next to a bright orange ensemble with inflatable inserts by Issey Miyake (S/S 2001 collection); Ralph Lauren's denim trousers covered in squares of different fabrics to create a patchwork effect are displayed next to a pair of see-through PVC pants by Alexander McQueen, while metallic leather and silk brocade boots from 1895 (possibly by Harry William Morris) sit next to their more modern counterpart by Lincoln's New York (2007).
Visitors with a passion for graphic design will enjoy the logo ensemble by Stephen Sprouse, while fashionistas will be able to rediscover a 1993 vest by Gianni Versace with an exotic Baroque print and an Amish inspired ensemble from Thom Browne's Autumn/Winter 2013-14 runway, complete with accessories (hat, quilted cape and case) not sold in stores.
Inspired by Browne's upbringing in rural Pennsylvania, the outfit features specific Amish references in the low-fitting hat, grey colour palette, quilting and star motifs, traditionally used to decorate barns.
There are some curious and novelty items on display as well, such as a pair of ironic boxer shorts with prints of pin ups opening the fly as if it were a curtain.
The most stunning piece in the exhibition is a rare smoking jacket made of cigar silks (sometimes you stumble upon such pieces at vintage stores or at antiquarian shops and auctions - they can easily reach several thousand pounds...).
This is a fascinating piece that can be dated from around the 1880s, when it was popular to construct garments from silk cigar bands used to tie bundles of tobacco products. The silk bands came in different colours and featured the brand name imprinted.
Women often collected these silk fabrics for quiltmaking and other sewing projects, so this piece is not just a flamboyant display of male's ego, but a testament to the patience and skills of the craftsperson (maybe a woman?) who made it, collecting all the bands and then matching and stitching them together in a visually striking composition.