Writing Teachers – Men’s Fashion at MAAS

Everyone’s crazy ’bout a sharp dressed man! I was certainly looking forward to Reigning Men – Fashion in Menswear 1715 – 2015, the latest exhibition at the Powerhouse Museum, also know as MAAS (Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences), and I wasn’t disappointed. Some items are from the MAAS collection, but the bulk of the fashion on display comes from LACMA – the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Karolina gave a brief overview of Reigning Men. Sometimes, mannequins were paired in outfits from across the centuries – linked in a dialogue of shared fabric, design or silhouette.

Elsewhere, garments from the same decade were grouped in conversation, as if the men who wore these were congratulating themselves on their good taste.

Using the established, and successful, program, we met at 10.30 am and new members to the group became familiar with the Lab writing space on Level 2. With the program outline, I also provided three poems and extracts as stimulus. We briefly discussed the day before heading out into a sea of men’s fashion to gather words and ideas.

We returned to the Lab just before midday, and had the option to view short films on what makes a stylish man? as part of our initial response to the exhibition. We discussed the ‘Objects’ (extract) from Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein, Mending by Hazel Hall, To Fashion by Elizabeth Moody and Wild Silk by Brian Russell. My aim in providing these materials was to increase the options for our writing – particularly if people became ‘stuck’ in their free writing. It also suggests a way to use different stimulus in the classroom, especially for regional and remotes teachers who may not have access to a range of exhibitions (although rapid response writing works beautifully in any situation). Poetry can be plundered for words lines that may begin a story or be a title. Writing from an admired or intriguing model encourages us, and students, to achieve. During our writing time, I felt inspired by the Cubist styling of Stein.

Consider how this Vivienne Westwood ensemble of wool/linen twill trousers and jacket, which I dubbed the ‘handkerchief man’ due to the connection between the sharp lines and terminal checks of my father’s hankies, is beautifully captured in the following poem:

handkerchief man

A Handkerchief

A winning of all the blessings, a sample not a sample because there is no worry.

Gertrude Stein

As I engaged with Reigning Men, I noticed and was then drawn to the soft, beige colourings of many outfits. These became the focus of my responses.

Taking Stein’s


A light white, a disgrace, an ink spot, a rosy charm.

I identified the different listed elements – colour, vice, mark, virtue – to write:


beige, gluttonous, mud spattered, compelling calm.

British merchant – French trader

a light beige, a very light beige, a quite light beige monstrously ordinary. Lit up by red moments of cross-cut-tie-resist-dyed pile.

A ruffle

a ruffle was not white, it was not cream, it was hardly seen, it was beguiling beige, continuing shadows in its flat faced pool of curves and fabric rolls, tied flouncing, neck and hands.

The use of poetry samples and extracts, loosely grouped around an idea or theme, is an easily transferred writing activity for the classroom.


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