Pink embroidery and patent Mary-Janes are details that could be expected on any girl in the playground, but take time to explore beyond the school walls and you will find we have a new breed of man on our hands who could be just as comfortable in these garments as any young female. With the evolution of gender fluidity, we have to wonder, is fashion influencing society or does society have a pronounced pull on the trends of today?
There has always been a dispiriting lack of choice for men when it comes to fashion. Even I found it frustrating sourcing styling inspiration for photoshoots, spending hours flicking through countless images of ‘The Dapper Gentleman’ , ’The Edgy Rebel’, or ‘The Gay Icon’ who was usually smothered in copious amounts of baby oil and wearing speedos tight enough to cut all blood circulation. You get the picture – there was not a lot of creativity in the mix. Another thing I noticed was that these characters were normally portrayed as either Alpha Male types or sex symbols for the gay community. It was one extreme or another with no room for grey areas.
Cue Alessandro Michele joining Gucci as Creative Director at the beginning on 2015. Italians are renowned for their flamboyant flair and Michele is no exception. His first collection paved a way for an alternative approach to men’s style, adorned with pussy bow blouses, red lace and chiffon. It wasn’t an overpowering statement, but it was an indication of Michele’s direction at the brand. He was challenging male stereotypes in fashion and this has only evolved with each men’s collection. This season saw Barbie pink turtlenecks, larger-than-life bow-ties and floral embroidery with Warhol-esque vibes. More risks were taken and Michele really expressed his vision of what men can (if they choose to) wear in this era. After all, why should men’s fashion be dictated by social norms?
Another big brand that has followed in Michele’s footsteps by questioning gender roles in fashion is Louis Vuitton. The Spring/Summer 2016 womenswear campaign sees Jayden Smith modelling women’s clothes alongside female models Sarah Brannon, Jean Campbell, and Rianne Van Rompaey. The campaign suggests that fashion should not have a gender, instead it should be unisex, which is certainly an interesting concept. During my time in Seoul, I came across a number of popular clothing stores with a whole floor dedicated to unisex fashion. I also noticed Asian men seemed less resistant to wearing feminine colours, textures or styles with a huge influence coming from KPop culture and the Genderless Kei pack.
Genderless Kei is a style which is becoming extremely popular in Japan with members who display a penchant for pink, pretty nails and platforms. It is a look that was inspired by J.W. Anderson’s Fall ’13 show which saw masculine male models sporting frilled shorts and bandeau tops along with other feminine features. Although, make no mistake, being a Genderless Kei does not necessarily mean you are trying to convey a preference for dressing as the opposite sex. It is more about incorporating elements from all genders collectively as one style. Toman, a GK model states ‘There are no rules!’ This suggests it is possible to be both male and female at once, not either or.
From a young age I refused to wear to wear dresses, favouring dungarees or trousers on a day-to-day basis. I couldn’t tell you why I made this early choice as a child and this is not to say I haven’t dabbled in the odd party or body-con dress in my time, but when I have I always wish I hadn’t. I don’t feel comfortable in skirts or dresses and they just aren’t for me. Imagining my life now without t-shirts and jeans is unthinkable and I believe as women we have more free reign to experiment to find the right combinations for our shape, preference or even mood.
How can men fully express themselves through clothing if there is so little on the market for them to choose from? It could be argued that although such styles can be seen on the catwalk, they may not translate as simply in real life, especially in Western markets. However, even mass market brands such as ASOS and Topman are jumping onboard with androgynous cuts, colours, models and even poses featured in their Fall 2016 lookbooks.
Rules on school uniform and identity are also becoming less binding in the UK. Boys can now wear skirts, while girls can wear trousers in 80 state schools under a new gender-neutral policy introduced to eliminate LGBT discrimination. I’m someone who doesn’t enjoy wearing overtly feminine clothes and it is likely that there are many men who don’t like wearing quintessentially masculine items. It doesn’t need to become an issue of sexuality and how this defines us by the way we dress. A woman can wear boyfriend jeans or a baggy shirt and it’s NBD but a man in a leather skirt is still not viewed as socially normal. This is a double standard and it needs to change.
This is not to say that men’s fashion should or shouldn’t become more feminine, but what can be said for this blurring of lines in society’s gender roles, is that creative directors such as Michele and Ghesquière (at LV) are certainly exploring the unknown. They are celebrating fashion as an art form whilst opening the doors for a new wave of creativity to resonate in fashion, suggesting that society is steering fashion rather than the other way around. The fact that such prominent luxury brands are choosing to include niche markets is a huge step forward as they are fundamentally educating the mass market on the importance of gender identities in this day and age. They are not showcasing new ideas but instead acting as a platform for the diverse community to express themselves which will hopefully inspire more choice and creativity in the industry during the years to come.