Gender Bending Fashion

March 21–August 25, 2019
John F. Cogan, Jr. and Mary L. Cornille Gallery (Gallery 260), Jeanne and Stokley Towles Gallery (Gallery 261), Catherine and Paul Buttenwieser Gallery (Gallery 262), Ives Family Gallery (Gallery 263), and Lizbeth and George Krupp Gallery (Gallery 264)

A century of style that dares to break the rules

From the runways to the streets, designers and wearers today are upending traditional ideas about men’s and women’s clothing. But those trends in American and European fashion are not new. This exhibition looks across a century of haute couture and ready-to-wear fashion that has challenged rigid, binary definitions of dress. It features more than 60 boundary-pushing designs, presenting the work of groundbreaking contemporary designers—including Rad Hourani, Jean Paul Gaultier, Alessandro Michele for Gucci, Palomo, and Rei Kawakubo—in the context of historical trends like the garçonne look of the 1920s and the peacock revolution of the 1960s.

“Gender Bending Fashion” examines a rich history of fashion disrupting, blurring, and redefining conventions and expectations around the relationship between gender and dress. At the same time, the garments on view can speak more broadly to societal shifts across the past century—including changing gender roles, increasing visibility of LGBTQIA+ communities, and the rise of social media as a powerful tool for self-expression. Throughout the exhibition, individual narratives emerge, touching on issues of gender identity and expression, sexuality, race, class, pop culture, activism, social justice, and more. “Gender Bending Fashion” features a digital album in two formats—a large-scale video and an interactive touchscreen—that highlights ten individuals from the Boston area whose perspectives reflect and expand on many of these themes.

Featuring pieces worn by actors, musicians, and influencers, including Marlene Dietrich, David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, and Young Thug, the multimedia presentation also incorporates paintings, photographs, music, and video. The works in the exhibition are drawn from the MFA’s collection as well as loans from museums, archives, private collections, and fashion houses.

In the News

Vogue (3/19/19): "Les Garçonnes Were Out in Full Force at the Exhibition Opening of Gender Bending Fashion at Boston’s MFA"
Vogue (3/20/19): "A New Exhibition in Boston on Gender-Bending Fashion Is Also About Youthquakes, New and Old"
The New York Times (3/12/19): "Looking Beyond the Fashion Binary"
The Wall Street Journal (3/30/19): "Sexual Disorientation"
The Associated Press (3/19/19): "‘Both sides of the binary:’ Exhibit explores gender, fashion"
The Boston Globe (3/17/19): "MFA celebrates ‘Gender Bending Fashion’ exhibition"
The Boston Globe (4/2/19): "Gender bending fashion at the MFA: Men in skirts, women in tuxes, them in genderless gear"
National Geographic (3/20/19): "Gender-bending fashion rewrites the rules of who wears what"
Boston Magazine (3/19/19): "Decades of Gender Bending Fashion Are Coming to the MFA"
Smithsonian (4/16/19): "Boston Museum Launches First Large-Scale Exhibition on Non-Binary Fashion"


Shapiro Family Foundation logo

Generously supported by the Carl and Ruth Shapiro Family Foundation.

The Coby Foundation logo

Generously supported by the Fashion Council and The Coby Foundation.

Additional support provided by the Museum Council Special Exhibition Fund.

Mandarin Oriental, Boston logo

Hotel Partner

Black Math logo

Motion graphics projections provided by Black Math.