I am a fashion student. We are, as a whole, an interesting bunch. We live in this micro-environment where style-wise, anything goes. We often end up feeling peoples clothes at parties and having a great time guessing what they’re made of. And we love, love, love androgyny.
Androgyny is defined as “showing characteristics of both sexes”. That can apply to lots of different things, but let’s stick with clothes for now. Androgynous fashion is hugely popular within the collections and designs I see take shape around me, and within the fashion world as a whole.
But does it actually show both masculine and feminine traits? And what does this say about the differences in how men and women are seen in society?
The stuff that is labelled androgynous is more often the masculinisation of female clothing, and far less often the feminization of male clothing. Hit up Google with a quick search on androgynous fashion, and a lot of what you’ll get is mostly a bunch of girls wearing variations on the suit. It’s mainly black. It’s mainly tailored. And it’s mainly women changing the way they dress.
This is definitely changing. Mens clothing is becoming more fluid.
We had Kanye West in a women’s shirt in 2011 and in a skirt in 2013. This is the guy whose recent wedding gift to his beloved wife was a painting called Perfect Bitch, which showed her wearing nothing but a thong and heels. He’s not exactly out to challenge gender stereotypes in many instances, but the guy’s okay with wearing a skirt. Things are changing.
But the fact remains that as a woman, you can put something together from most men’s closets that is okay to walk down the street in. You can walk into a man’s clothing store and buy something for yourself. I work in a menswear store, and it happens all the time. No-one blinks an eye, we just find the last size small for the good lady, compliment her choice of colour and send her on her way.
As a woman, wearing something that is made for a guy is considered cool, edgy, interesting.
If a man walked into a womans store and asked for some help finding a womans dress for himself, the reaction would probably be very different. If he put together an outfit from a womans closet, he’d be unlikely to make it down the street without some backlash.
Men wearing something intended for women is most often seen as being ridiculous and demeaning.
And even when it’s not – even when it’s one of the biggest rappers in the world wearing a skirt – it’s still seen as being shocking and daring.
I hardly need to underline the fact that gender is socially constructed. The way we dress is one of the big ways we make this happen. Wearing skirts and stilettos is not written in the terms and conditions of having a second X chromosome, just like the fact that you landed on an XY combo is not biology’s way of saying it wants to see you in nothing but jeans and button down shirts in respectable shades of blue (Not turquoise! Never turquoise!) for life.
Men’s clothing is seen as being empowering for both genders. Women’s clothing is fine for women, but demeaning for men. And when women want to be seen as powerful, respectable, serious, what do we do? We add traditionally masculine elements to our dressing. We break out the blazers, the tailoring and sometimes even the shoulder pads. (Eighties power dressing, anyone?)
This photo series by Hana Pesut where couples swap their entire outfits illustrates this perfectly. Imagine swapping your outfit with the next person of the opposite sex you see. Who would come out on top? Chances are the man would look ridiculous, while the woman would look pretty okay.
If you’re a woman, you might be thinking, yay! I get all the things!
I love a good chambray shirt and I happen to have a shoe size that’s covered by both men and women’s styles. I’ve got mens boots and womens heels, mens sweaters and womens dresses. And I wear them all together.
So I’m not exactly opposed to being able to pick and choose.
But the fact that womens’ default fashion setting compromises mens power, while mens’ default fashion setting takes women’s power up a few notches is not as great as it seems.
Because it says that being powerful and respectable is a masculine thing. A thing for men to do and be and women to copy and aspire to.
Being vulnerable, frivolous, flighty, emotional and sexualised, on the other hand, is a feminine thing. A thing that women innately are and can only avoid by becoming more like men.
Fashion can be a litmus test for gender roles. And what it’s saying right now is this: we’ve come so far, but we’ve got so far to go (Shit, did I just reference a musical??).
Until the way society assigns power is not so heavily based on gender, truly androgynous fashion will be a rarity.If you enjoyed this post, stay in touch! Follow @ThisKindChoice