What does it take for you to dress your best? What makes you reach into the back of your closet for those epic combat boots or your favorite pair of neon leggings? Nothing can push you to the edge of fashion faster than a friend who is also feeling fabulous.
A number of the photographs in the exhibition Public Dress capture style in duplicate. From Weegee’s staged encounter with the sumptuously dressed Mrs. George Washington Kavenaugh and Lady Decies at the Metropolitan Opera in 1943 to Andrew Burmeister’s candid shot of two menswear models off the runway in 2005, photographers acknowledge the visual power of pairs. These pairs offer a compositional symmetry that pulls the viewers in, allowing them to start their own of list of similarities and differences and enticing them to imagine more about the conditions under which the picture was made. The pairings in Public Dress spark questions like: Did the ladies of Geoff Winningham’s photograph Lamé Pants shop together? Were they an uncommon sight at the 1972 Houston Rodeo or the real life basis for the costumes in Urban Cowboy?
Robert Frank’s suit-clad London bankers of 1951 provide a striking contrast to the two women highlighted in Garry Winogrand’s 1980 photograph from the series Women are Beautiful. Both duos are dressed in nearly identical uniform. Each engaged in an aspect of their respective daily routines—be it sharing a cigar or a walk through the park—their attire becomes more visually compelling because of how strictly they mimic the style of the person at their side. These photographs, along with the others presented in Public Dress, heighten awareness of the image you compose in the mirror every day and may inspire you to do a double take the next time you find yourself wearing the same shirt or earrings as your best friend.
Left: Robert Frank, London, 1951, gelatin silver print, the MFAH, gift of P/K Associates. © Robert Frank; courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York
Right: Garry Winogrand, Untitled, from the series Women are Beautiful, 1980, gelatin silver print, the MFAH, gift of Marc Freidus. © Estate of Garry Winogrand