“If you speak to curators of costume or dress or fashion around the world, they’ll tell you how hard it is to collect menswear, particularly from the 19th century,” says Museum of Applied Arts & Sciences Senior Curator Roger Leong ahead of the Powerhouse Museum’s new exhibition Reigning Men: Fashion in Menswear, 1715–2015.

Italy c. 1700. All photos ©  Museum Associates / LACMA

The exhibition will feature 130 garments by designers such as Alexander McQueen, Burberry, Calvin Klein, Chanel, Giorgio Armani, Gucci, Jean Paul Gaultier, Louis Vuitton and Yves Saint Laurent, tracing the relationship between history and men’s fashion. The pieces are primarily drawn from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s renowned collection, which was bolstered by a game-changing acquisition of men’s, women’s and children’s clothing – including a singular collection of men’s three-piece suits from 1750 to 1810 – bought from dealers Martin Kamer and Galerie Ruf in 2009. 

It’s in the history of men’s fashion itself that we find the reason for the difficulties in collecting menswear. “From the late 18th century, particularly, men’s fashion went through a massive sea change,” explains Leong.  “In...

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