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Frontline Fashion Exhibition Explores the Relationship Between War and Fashion

Tuesday May 24, 2011

From the jungles of Vietnam, the deserts of the Persian Gulf, to the catwalks of New York, Milan and Paris, military style has marched its way into mainstream fashion, influencing designer silhouettes season after season.  Now, it is in the spotlight once again with a special 60-piece exhibition , called "Frontline Fashion: War and Fashion" opening May 25th at the Charles River Museum of Industry & Innovation in Waltham, Mass. 

Researched and curated by the Historical Collections Department of LaSell College in Boston, Frontline Fashion explores the relationship between wartime necessity and fashion epiphany.    Here is the attire worn by the men and women in the United States military in three major conflicts - the Vietnam War, The Persian Gulf War (also known as Operation Desert Storm) and the recent conflicts in Iraq -- juxtaposed with the fashions from the era that they inspired. 

The exhibit illustrates the significant impact that military style has had on fashion trends over the past four decades.  "The irony that war can somehow be fashionable evokes powerful and complex expressions in the form of wearable patriotic replications," comments Jill Carey, Associate Professor at LaSell.  "From the introduction of khaki to the American textiles market, to the rise in popularity of Tiffany & Co.'s pricey titanium dog tags, military and fashion styles have had strong bonds during the course of warfare history."

The exhibition is organized in sections - camouflage, khaki, red-white-and-blue (a section celebrating American patriotism) and accessories.  You'll find the muted chocolate camouflages of the desert wars; parkas and anoraks in khaki; along with helmets, combat boots, bomber jackets, sea bags, aviator glasses, and more.   Among their couture counterparts are military-style field jackets with multiple pockets and gusseted cuffs; camouflage-colored pants with cargo pockets, flap pockets and zipper details; great coats and military caps.   As famed fashion editor, Diana Vreeland, once wrote, "military uniforms have become the sportswear of the nineteenth century."

"Young people today grew up with the issues surrounding those wars. They are drawn to military attire as it is a unisex style with no gender bias."

Indeed, military garb has been spotted everywhere from the streets, college campuses, to the magazines and fashion runways.  "While the military look can be traced all the way back to the Revolutionary and Civil war eras, we chose to concentrate on recent conflicts as they are close to home," notes Ms. Corey   "Young people today grew up with the issues surrounding those wars. They are drawn to military attire as it is a unisex style with no gender bias.  Plus, the look is so versatile and functional. "

Carey adds that this was a student-driven project, with five young scholars -all taking a course in collection research - working daily to establish the connection between the color, shape, tailoring, the protective aspect of military attire and today's fashion.   Elizabeth Fitzgerald conducted research and wrote the text panels for the exhibition.  The Charles River Museum is the perfect partner for the introduction of this exhibition.  The museum is devoted to presenting innovation in all of its many aspects from 1812 to the current day.

An opening reception for Frontline Fashion will be held on May 25th from 6:30-8:30pm.   Light refreshments will be served.   Museum hours are: 10 AM to 5 PM, Thursday through Sunday, admission is $7.00 per adult, $5.00 per child student or Senior, Children under 6, active US Military and retired US Military are Free.  The Museum is located at 154 Moody Street, Waltham, MA 02453. For more information visit or call 781 893 5410.

The exhibit closes October 9, 2011.


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