It’s been a while since there’s been an exciting menswear exhibition on in one of London’s galleries, but The Photographers Gallery has come up trumps with its photography exhibition entitled ‘Made you look; Dandyism & Black Masculinity’, described as “A group exhibition exploring the identity of the black dandy as performed in studio and street photographers from London to New York to Bamako”. This is not only an exhibition that celebrates the unique style of black men in the early 20th century and recognises their influence on fashion, music and culture, but it also highlights the levels of vulnerability and risk of arrest/imprisonment these men suffered at that time. The photos are very bold and some are very colourful and innovative; they show young men asserting a ‘powerful personal presence’ through their stylish and individual dress. Some are street style shots which celebrate the ordinary elegance of the dandy and his ability to transform ordinary items of everyday life into a style statement.
The term ‘Dandyism’ itself is said to mean “A man who places particular importance upon physical appearance, refined language and leisurely hobbies, pursued with the appearance of nonchalance in a cult of self”, something we perhaps don’t see as much of these days. This exhibition gave a new side to dandyism and one that was much more authentic, unusual and creative than the idea history laid out for us. It shows the risks some men took to be true to themselves in a time of social oppression and how relevant and inspiring their style still is today. Go see it.