Gender fluid dressing in 2021 marks a turning point for redefining men’s fashion
There’s no doubt androgynous dressing is trickling down to the boy next door from TikTok’s creation of the fem-boy, to a handful of famous faces. We have Ezra Miller, who struts down red carpets in risk-taking looks, Jayden Smith, who mixes feminine and masculine aesthetics, not forgetting A$AP Rocky who enjoys taking a dip into lady’s accessories. More than ever, people are challenging what it means to be ‘masculine’.
Phluid Project reported 56% of Gen Z consumer shops outside of their assigned gender. _shift found that 80% of men surveyed, believed menswear is becoming more acceptive of traditionally feminine designs. Countless Gen-Zers are loving the fem look for men, and the phenomenon has seen an array of enthusiastic girls who agree that an androgynous style is sexy and shows confidence.
Speaking to lecturer and researcher Jay McCauley Bowstead, who published the monograph ‘Menswear Revolution: The Transformation of Contemporary Men’s Fashion’, he says: “It’s something we’ve seen cyclically, in a sense that you see quite androgynous styles of menswear in the early ’80s and you see them in the ’70s during the peacock revolution.” Dressing androgynously has been a part of British culture for over 40 years, yet it’s only recently trickled into the mainstream. But how far exactly will men go? And will there always be barriers stopping expression through dress?
CELEBRITIES’ INFLUENCE AND TREND SETTING
Perhaps the most iconic example is heartthrob Harry Styles, who graced Vogue’s cover back in December, wearing a dress. Of course, it wasn’t Style’s first-time wearing clothes deemed as ‘more feminine’, as he’s known to appreciate a pearl necklace and a see-through shirt. Today’s master of gender-fluid dress, however, came across scrutiny from Twitter’s right-wingers, one being Candace Owens, who wrote a tweet aimed at Style’s Vogue cover saying, “It is an outward attack, bring back manly men.”
The indirect attack made by Owens was casually shrugged off by Styles, who then ironically used the phrase “bring back manly men” as his Instagram caption. Throughout his career as musician, actor, and confident fashion icon, he’s unknowingly inspired a generation to follow along and step out of gender assigned clothes. McCauley Bowstead adds: “There’s been more of a space for a long time in celebrity entertainment for more subversive and fluid ways of expressions of gender that don’t necessarily directly translate into most people’s experiences of everyday life.”
Styles was certainly not the first to experiment with feminine garments. His status, gender identity, good looks and dreamboat reputation have secured him more praise and acclamation than other members of the LGBTQ+ community, who have been proudly wearing androgynous clothing for decades, counting Freddie Mercury, Elton John, and David Bowie.
Influential power is not something every guy is fortunate to have and experimenting with feminine dressing can be a step too far for many. “Male celebrities reach a larger audience, whereas regular men don’t have the same platform or influence, [they] have to deal with a lot more face-to-face judgement which deters a lot of men from even attempting,” says 24-year-old actor and model Jerry Iwn.
LONDON: THE HUB OF ACCEPTANCE
For people who, like us, have the privilege to live in a diverse and eclectic city like London, it’s much easier to risk a little – or a lot – with our outfits. Historic neighbourhoods like Soho and Camden have always been a safe space for extravagant dressers, and hip Shoreditch and Hackney pulsate with colourful and camp mis-ensembles.
On wearing more flamboyant and traditionally feminine clothing, fashion consultant Olly Brooks says: “I don’t think I would receive backlash, but that’s because I’m based in Dalston, probably the most open-minded London neighbourhood. Certain areas I’m sure you’d be at risk of homophobic comments.”
The city is a hub of acceptance, but its size and diversity also imply a multitude of ideas and mindsets, so it doesn’t come as a surprise to hear how common it is to receive critiques, or even threats. “It’s still not easy to leave the house, outside of say Shoreditch, in feminine clothes and not fear the worse,” adds London-based model Jordan Smith.
For most men living outside of London in more rural and secluded areas in the UK, breaking free from the typical “manly” dress code is still a challenge, if not a taboo.
HOMOPHOBIC STANCE STILL LOOMS OVER MENSWEAR
When conducting our survey, we found that 6 out of 15 men who took part would assume something about a man’s sexuality if they saw him wearing feminine clothes. The lines between gender and clothing still connote assumptions of one’s sexuality. Homophobia is unfortunately still present in society, with Stonewall reporting 1 in 5 LGBTQ+ people have experienced a hate crime or incident because of their sexual orientations and/or gender in the last 12 months.
This homophobic stance that still looms over men’s dressing is putting fashion into a binary box. However, younger generations are beginning to have a more pluralistic view of gender identity and sexuality as spectrums, instead of polarised stereotypes.
Many people argue that even e-commerce websites don’t take into account the diversity within the gender identity spectrum. “There are nearly eight million different perspectives in the world and we still haven’t managed to eliminate this antiquated attitude towards fashion and clothing (…) Highlight the style of each piece, rather than the gender that society absurdly assigns,” says Smith.
Nonetheless, the conversation around the issue has progressed, especially within younger generations. McCauley Bowstead points out, “I know that’s very old hat now to talk about heterosexuals but you could argue that these kinds of words that talk about men like, metrosexual, hipster, spornasexual, gym bro, fem boy all these kinds of terms, in and of themselves kind of denote a pluralisation of masculinity because what they show is that there is more than one way to be a man.”
The path towards a more fluid way of dressing is directly intertwined with the one away from homophobia and prejudice. “As we see more acceptance and education around the trans and non-binary movements, inevitably, there will be great experimentation when it comes to fashion and gender,” says Olly Brooks.
FASHION INDUSTRY’S MOVE TOWARDS FLUIDITY
Luxury brands such as Gucci, Wales Bonner, and Telfar are introducing gender-inclusivity. Using extravagant colours, patterns, silks, transparent fabrics, satin and velvet, these brands represent an industry that is working towards acceptance, fluidity, and diversity in terms of sexual and gender identity.
Mcauley Bowstead explained that there have recently been far more menswear brands that have adopted this androgynous aesthetic. “I was looking at the Prada show that Raf Simons co-designed and Kim Jones at Dior exploring this interesting mash-up style by bringing elements of sportswear in with lace and other elements that feel more like they come from the world of dressmaking and couture.”
Yet, high street alternatives–where the majority of the public shop due to affordability and accessibility – are behind on fem designs. 73% of male respondents in our survey agreed that high-street stores don’t represent feminine designs enough. Touching on this point, Brooks said, “Right now the trickle-down effect hasn’t been seen. This can be seen in fast fashion’s reluctance to replicate gender fluid pieces in their collections.” He adds, “I can think of only Zara that made a slight attempt maybe 3 seasons ago.”
Not all affordable shops are keeping up with the emergence of androgynous looks, likely because of the worry that fem dressing will not appeal to the majority of men who shop through the high street. Nevertheless, there are a few following the footsteps of luxury.
“I think there are labels that do more interesting things, COS, All Saints, ASOS, which I think is quite clever in trying to appeal to different kinds of men,” says McCauley Bowstead. Menswear brands aimed at Gen-Z and millennials are recognising the influx of feminine dressing, and they also want to blur the lines between male and female dress. I think often, in a way, those labels are aimed at quite younger guys, and are often more experimental.”
Despite the recent steps forward towards inclusivity and fluidity, it’s not easy to predict whether androgyny will become the normality in menswear. “There is a more plural diffuse model of masculinity, so I think fashion, grooming, styling, style plays a big part of this discourse,” continues Mcauley Bowstead. The industry is finally starting to recognise the urgency of more fluid ways of dressing, but homophobic stereotypes and toxic definitions of manliness still pollute the way to a comprehensive view of masculinity. It is quite difficult to gaze into the crystal ball and say if we will continue to open up and have a pluralisation of gender for both men and women.”