2 Min Lesezeit
© Het Nieuwe Instituut
Thayaht im Overall, fotografiert von P. Salvini, Florenz, 1920, Photographic archive of the Prato Textile Museum
Winston Churchill in seinem „Sirenenanzug“ in Chartwell, Kent, © Illustrated London News Ltd/Mary Evans.

“Functional clothing” is not a nice word. “Workwear” sounds better, especially more clearly like work. What was originally a kind of tool for dressing has long since broken away from the workplace, inspiring everyday fashion and haute couture. Industrial looks and fashion associations with the working class have shaped the most diverse subcultures. It is not for nothing that people talk about “white coats” and “blue collar” professions. Until 10 September, the Nieuwe Instituut in Rotterdam is paying tribute to all the garments worn at work, symbolising it and often enough designed for its particularities, under the title “Workwear”. Curated by fashion researcher Eldina Begic, the show presents dozens of vintage classics, current highlights and futuristic experiments from the collections of fashion designers like Massimo Osti and Nigel Cabourn, artists like Lucy Orta and William Morris, private collections and public museums. A special section of the exhibition is also dedicated to the relationship between workwear and sustainability. A designer and a performer also imagine the future of work and the workwear associated with it. The exhibition design was provided by the architecture and design firm “Cookies”, the graphic design is by Studio Isabelle Vaverka.

“There are,” says Eldina Begic, “certain professions where the people doing the work have to wear highly specific, highly technical work clothes: Firefighters, fighter jet pilots, astronauts, tugboat crews, rubbish collectors and mechanics, for example. In these professions, you depend on your clothes to be able to move freely and protect yourself; sometimes even your own life depends on it”. On the one hand, the exhibition aims to show how the simple design language of “workwear”, the hard-wearing materials it is made of and the symbolic meaning of the respective professional clothing stimulate the imagination. On the other hand, the show explores the question of whether workwear could help to imagine the society of the future.

In Rotterdam, X-ray images of Neil Armstrong’s moon landing suit will be shown alongside a “space suit” with detachable legs worn by members of the Dutch Provo movement. An original overshirt by Arts and Crafts designer William Morris is also on display, as is an Italian Futurist overall by Thayaht. Theatrical costumes of the Russian avant-garde show how their creators imagined the future through work clothes. The fact that politicians, scientists and artists like to be photographed in work clothes to convey certain messages can be observed time and again. Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill went far beyond this: he was not only an advocate of wearing work clothes as simple and practical leisure wear; during the Second World War, he distributed the pattern of the “siren suit” he had invented so that civilians could recreate the overalls he had modelled on bricklayers’ clothing.

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