TREND: GENDER REBEL
Designers are increasingly shunning traditional gender conventions and embracing androgyny on the runway.
“You’ve got your mother in a whirl / she’s not sure if you’re a boy or a girl,” sang David Bowie in his 1974 hit “Rebel, Rebel,” calling to mind a fusty mother bothered by the gender bending of the ’70s. Well, that mother may have the same reaction looking at some of the recent collections for fall/winter 2015-16. Androgynous dressing is reaching a peak not seen since the glam rockers of Bowie’s day and, glancing at many faces on the runways, you might face the same confusion.
Jil Sander defied traditional breakdowns of masculine and feminine with men in bobbed haircuts and trousers with women’s tailoring, and female model Marland Backus dressed in boyish button-up shirts with sweaters. Incidentally, Backus – a Jodie Foster look-alike who was recently pronounced a “rising star” by W – made her runway debut in the Gucci menswear fall/winter 2015-16 show by Alessandro Michele, in which she modeled a long captain’s coat that would look equally appropriate on a man. Saint Laurent also included women in the house’s fall/winter menswear show, with some observers wondering if it’s only a matter of time until gendered fashion shows go the way of the dodo bird.
But why this sudden surge towards genderless fashion? It may in part be a product of our gender fluid times, in which transgender folks like Caitlyn Jenner have gone from freak show attraction to the cover of Vanity Fair, former Disney child star Miley Cyrus is publicly dating a Victoria’s Secret model and the US Supreme Court has declared gay marriage legal in all fifty states. But it’s also a product of a shift in global patterns of consumption. As Asian consumers throw around their buying power, designers are making clothes for a smaller, slimmer clientele that can pull off androgyny with aplomb.
Certainly, it’s been chic for women to borrow from the men’s section for several years now. Alexa Chung became an “It Girl” by doing little more than wearing boy blazers and forgetting her hairbrush. And Chung was only the latest in a long tradition of fashionistas to do so – think of Diane Keaton’s suits and Marlene Dietrich’s tuxedos. Yet those femme icons always tempered their masculine looks with liberal quantities of eyeliner, while today’s crossdressing makes it less obvious. Take Alexander Wang’s gothic show, for example. The models were styled with pale skin and wet-looking hair that was utterly devoid of any girlishness (even Kendall Jenner looked tough.)
What’s more, the closet-swapping has begun to go both ways, with menswear stealing more and more from women’s wardrobes. Gucci’s fall/winter 2015-16 collection had men in pussy bow shirts with long flowing hair. Saint Laurent had one male model in a pink fur coat, another in zebra stripes. Even Burberry got in on the action: men walked down the catwalk wearing animal prints and carrying purses. Pardon me, man bags.
Which brings us to one final point: gender has always been socially constructed. Baby girls aren’t born wearing pink, any more than Alexa Chung was born with perfectly- applied eyeliner. As RuPaul, the legendary drag queen, once said, “We’re all born naked. The rest is drag.”