Style Blog: Gender in fashion
Gender-bending in fashion is not new, and is hardly a trend. However, labels are finding new ways to cash in. Speaking on a cultural level, recent years have seen a much greater awareness about the fluidity of gender identity. It is becoming more clear gender is not a binary, and the business side of fashion is catching up with the opportunities this presents.
It’s important to be critical of the concept of clothing being gendered in the first place. A misunderstanding of this idea often shows how labels are exploiting gender-bending in their collections to appeal to a new market niche. You see this when female models are dressed in blazers that are coded ‘masculine’ in the width of the shoulder and lapel, or when male models are dressed in flowery lace or loose and flowy tops. A binary is not challenged or subverted when the equation is simply flipped, and this reveals an unwillingness to truly engage with the push for gender-fluid style.
J.W. Anderson, for example, is a designer who has been celebrated for the way his gender-fluid collections could be mistaken for each other. They are separated into menswear and womenswear, but he barely makes an attempt to change his approach. Because fashion is about literally buying into an image—usually idealized—Anderson is beloved for being a clever curator who uses gender and sexuality in unexpected and subversive ways, rather than further fetishizing facile androgyny.
In 1966, when Yves Saint-Laurent introduced “Le smoking,” or the tuxedo for women, it was seen as a breakthrough collection in androgynous dressing.
Years later, fashion continues to blur gender boundaries. Recent collections from Gucci had men walking in women’s shows and vice versa. Their latest men’s collections donned long-haired male models in pastel silks and floral bomber jackets. In Louis Vuitton’s latest campaign, Jaden Smith stands in a pleated skirt among female models. In these cases, men are the ones styled in stereotypically feminine ways.
For so long, androgyny focused on women dressing as men. Think of the power suit in the 1980s. Think of all the girls who grew up as tomboys, wearing mud-covered overalls and sneakers. Women dressing as men was easier to get used to. A little girl who wants to wear pants is much more accepted in our society than a little boy who wants to wear a dress. Hegemonic masculinity still prevails—even with people who pop up from time to time who try to question our understanding of it. The late David Bowie comes to mind.
If I were to wear a tuxedo to a formal event, it would be considered a stylish choice, probably just catalogued as “menswear inspired.” But if a male wore a dress to a formal event, it inspires different reactions. There are immediately connotations towards his sexuality. If he’s wearing a dress, does he want to be a girl? Is he gay?
Even with developments in “genderless” clothing or gender neutrality on the runway, gendered restrictions on clothing still stand. What will it take to get rid of them completely?