Similarly, the exhibition illustrates how feminine uniforms — once intended to signify respectability or at least professionalism– become highly sexualized through fashion, as with the nurse’s uniform. Considered the first respectable profession for women in the 19th century, nursing required a uniform which conveyed as much. Uniformity displays two early nurse uniforms which drew their visual vocabulary from ecclesiastical dress, suggesting purity and modesty, while maintaining fashionable silhouettes which indicated that the wearers were ladies of a certain station. As McClendon puts it, “Modesty is the armor of the working woman in the 19th century.” Nurses’ uniforms eventually became sexualized in the 20th century; the women’s liberation movement and the entrance of men into the profession changed the field, and the nurse’s uniform was abandoned in favor of more unisex and utilitarian scrubs. According to McClendon, “Gender roles are a very important topic in considering where we are going in uniform design as we enter into this period of gender fluidity. This ideal of a woman’s uniform being becoming and her gender being clear is not necessarily what contemporary society wants out of a uniform.”

The last section of the gallery finishes with pieces exemplifying the increase in the importance of branding in uniforms and fashion, with the first McDonald’s uniform designed by Stan Herman in 1975, and a collection of school and sports uniforms and the fashion pieces influenced by them. McClendon uses a final video display of fashion performances by Chanel, Gaultier, and Thom Browne to illustrate how pervasive uniforms are in fashion, and how their meaning is dependent on social context and coding. Uniforms are inextricably linked with notions of authority, gender, and class. This is particularly evident in the Chanel performances set in a brasserie and an airport terminal. As McClendon points out, the audience’s attention is drawn to the models in uniform-inspired couture, while the backgrounds of the scenes are populated by people in actual uniforms — who act as little more than set dressing.

Be they high fashion or official, individual or institutional, uniforms are in fact everywhere in American society. Uniformity provides an entry into making visible and unpacking the layers of social coding we use to simultaneously interpret uniforms and overlook their importance in our daily lives and in our fashion.