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Southern Duds: The Valentine Examines Men’s Fashion in Virginia Through the Years

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"All Southern women wished of their menfolk was simply to be like Paris, handsome, and like Hector, brave," Virginia-born author Willa Cather wrote.

And by handsome, she meant well dressed.

A sartorial showstopper, the Valentine museum’s latest exhibition, “The Virginia Man: Respect, Responsibility, Rebellion,” proves through exhibits of clothing and accessories that the concept of masculinity is a malleable one.

Curator Kristen Stewart begins with the summer go-to for generations of Virginia men.

“I wanted to get the seersucker out of the way,” she says of the lightweight fabric that appeared as early as 1730 in the Virginia Gazette.

Moving through, the cultural history exhibit proves that a once-specific definition of Southern masculinity has broadened considerably. For a sampler of what Virginia men wore, from an Acca fez to Arthur Ashe’s shoes, here is some of what you can expect:

1. The 1998 leather jacket of Richmond punk band Strike Anywhere’s singer Thomas Barnett, covered in patches, pins and warnings such as “Here Comes the War.”

2. Newspaper-printed double-breasted dinner jacket of Richmond News Leader and Times-Dispatch publisher D. Tennant Bryan with articles such as “Son found alive, News kills Dad” and “Crew leaves burning ship in mid-ocean” printed directly on the 1970 fabric.

3. Robert E. Lee’s 1852 boots from his time as superintendent of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

4. Virginia Commonwealth University Rams basketball player William “Rob” Brandenberg’s 2014 jersey, worn during his senior year when the team went to its fourth consecutive appearance at the NCAA tournament.

5. A brilliant red Deep Run Hunt Club hunt coat, white breeches and boots, all standard riding attire, but also accompanied by the accessories of a Southern gentlemen: a leather-bound crystal flask and leather sandwich case for midhunt lunching.

6. Former governor and Richmond mayor L. Doug Wilder’s dove-gray morning suit, top hat and gloves from his 1985 inauguration as lieutenant governor.

7. Muralist Ed Trask’s cuffed and paint-splattered Shockoe Denim blue jeans, in one of the first styles the company created.

8. The 1983 basketball jersey of the University of Virginia’s Ralph Sampson, shown on a mannequin far smaller than the towering 7-foot-4 Sampson because of the display case’s height constraints.

The show closes with a feminine take on masculinity. Drag queen Bianca B. Star’s red spandex dress with blue and white starred cape and sash won “best original fashion-forward look using patriotic colors” at the 2015 Miss Gay Virginia America pageant.

Because when haven’t Southern men liked being winners? S

“The Virginia Man: Respect, Responsibility, Rebellion” runs through the end of the year at the Valentine museum, 1015 E. Clay St. For information call 649-0711 or visit thevalentine.org.

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