Taboos are not visible until they are broken, and since our wardrobes are one of the most evident concretisations of the binary gender system, the reactions that cross-dressing generate reveal deep-rooted notions about masculinity. Recently however, prominent male celebrities have been spotted in the latest women’s collections. Political statement or not, is this a passing trend or the beginning of a revolution?
Historically, women dressed in menswear for the purpose of emancipation. Victorian corsets and crinolines were purposely designed to modify and subdue the female body, not only to the current beauty standards, but also to the life she was expected to live. Thus, conquering the male wardrobe was seen as a way for women to gain social mobility.
However the reverse phenomenon – men wearing womenswear –has been nowhere near as prominent in modern fashion history. Yet there are of course examples of époques in which this occurred: in 19th century England, for example, the dandies, stylish aristocrats such as Lord Byron and Oscar Wilde, borrowed from the boudoir, powdering their faces and opting for slimmer suits. More or less hundred years later, the recently deceased pop-artists David Bowie and Prince challenged convention again as they danced provocatively in deep décolletages and heavily painted eyes. Although these are only two of many examples, it is fair to say that these instances have not had a lasting impact on the male wardrobe as we know it today.
Recently though, a number of modern musical icons such as Kanye West and Pharell Williams have chosen womenswear, both on stage and privately. More importantly, seventeen year-old teen star Jaden Smith is the new cover face of Louis Vuitton’s womenswear campaign, in which he naturally blends in among the other women in the pictures, dressed impeccably in Nicolas Ghesquière’s neo futuristic fantasies. Perhaps even more remarkable is that he has been captured in paparazzi pictures wearing the same clothes; he goes to school, concerts and dates in pleated skirts and wavy chiffon dresses. Meanwhile, fashion designer Marc Jacobs is a dedicated customer of Prada’s dresses and eccentric fur coats.
This development, beginning long ago in underground teenage culture, has begun to affect high-end fashion houses as well. At Gucci for instance, Alessandro Michele has directed the menswear into an androgynous direction, draping his pale and effeminate male models in bright coloured silks and bold brocades. Clearly drawing upon queer influences, the ladylike sensitivity of the house’s menswear collections are becoming increasingly difficult to tell apart from the women’s section in stores. Brands such as Vetements and Hood by Air, in postmodern spirit, denounce that their play with gendered aesthetics should be idealistic or utopian. In fact the only reason behind male models walking in the earliest Vetements’ shows was because they could not find enough girls said creative director Demna Gvasalia. Likewise, Shayne Oliver claims that gender does not become him when designing his collections. Both brands have ignored gender politics in the creative process, in order to design on purely aesthetic terms. Nonetheless, as skirts and high heels are socially coded the end result is often seen as political, although it is not aimed at being so. Either way design that ignores gender is a thought-provoking and innovative direction for fashion.
Perhaps it is simply that men today are finally recognising the creative possibilities and joy that female clothes allow an individual. Or, as Alexander Fury suggested, as so often in fashion, perhaps it is merely because these clothes look good. Given a second thought, reserving certain beautiful garments only for women seems irrational, unfair and, dare I say it, sexist. A few celebrities and luxury brands challenging this current structure may seem insignificant at first glance, but we must not forget that it was not so long ago that a woman in trousers was thought of as vulgar gimmick.
Images: youtube.com, nowfashion.com