Admittedly, jeans do not feel particularly risqué these days. Nor, in the age of barely-there swimsuits, does the bikini. And yet, as “Fashion’s Subversives” reminds us, these wardrobe staples were once groundbreaking pieces that opened the door to self-expression. Perhaps that is why this new exhibition at Phoenix Art Museum, running through Nov. 28, feels so resonant.
Self-expression, after all, is a continuously evolving, sometimes revolutionary thing. And to know where the road leads, you sometimes have to cast a look back. In the case of “Fashion’s Subversives,” that glance extends all the way back to the 19th century and includes nearly 40 pieces designed by the likes of Yves Saint Laurent and Balenciaga.
Whether it’s a tailored tuxedo jacket that pushed the envelope of gender norms or a piece of costume jewelry that represented the breakdown of a social hierarchy, the clothing and accessories of “Fashion’s Subversives” offer a thoughtful exploration of one of the world’s most egalitarian and elusive art forms.