The fashion industry has historically lent greater stylistic freedom to womenswear designers, who are free to confidently explore masculinity from season to season. Classic menswear staples such as three-piece suits, button-ups and lace-up Oxfords have all become an integral part of women’s wardrobes with neither question nor criticism from society—but the same cannot be said for menswear. Standard silhouettes and staples within men’s fashion have remained stagnant throughout the past century, making a change in this menswear monotony both imperative and inevitable.
It is rather curious how society is far more accepting of a woman sporting the same blazer as a passing man, than if the two were to be wearing matching skirts. Though a menswear-as-womenswear trend began during World War I, signs are suggesting a similar development for the opposite now. We may be 100 years late, but one designer is finally exploring gender homogenous realms within menswear on a mainstream platform, perhaps indicating that 2013 will be the year of rejecting gender norms and embracing widespread liberation within male fashion.
British designer J.W. Anderson presented on Jan. 9 his Fall 2013 menswear collection in London. Surrounded by big-name designers whose creations rely on simply redesigning old staples while making little artistic impact, Anderson’s collection demanded attention, showcasing 36 androgynous looks.
Backed by rapper Angel Haze’s “Werkin’ Girls,” a fitting soundtrack, Anderson showcased what he described as his “second real menswear collection,” evidently ignoring his past presentations that lacked femininity. A pair of structured strapless jumpers in neutral tones served as the audience’s gateway to Anderson’s extreme vision. Although the strapless silhouette was blatantly feminine with ruffled trim along the bottom, the thick fabric and muted colors made it appropriate for menswear. The gender juxtaposition of shape and materials provided viewers just a mere taste of what was still to come.
Within minutes, male models emerged on the runway sporting shockingly short-hemmed dresses—a rare narrative in runway write-ups on menswear. These looks were so feminine they easily could have been left over from his pre-fall 2013 womenswear line. Although the audience of elite editors, stylists and bloggers appeared typically unfazed, the line’s brilliance was overwhelming.The most fearless piece was a taupe sleeveless, crew neck mini-dress that confidently upturned mainstream codes of gender.
It was a reinvention of The Little Black Dress, but for men, with as much impact as it originally had in 1926. Tears should have been falling; fashion enthusiasts should have been fainting. It was that revolutionary.
While this isn’t the first time the fashion world has seen such innovation, it may be the first time this androgyny has been presented for a marketable purpose. In the early 1970s, David Bowie expressed his femininity through Ziggy Stardust, an alter ego that caught the public’s eye. With bright orange hair, sequin-covered leotards and towering platform heels, alongside visible masculine features, Bowie performed each night, binding the societal standards of both men
For Bowie, this behavior was simply an extension of his identity. For the general public, however, this was a show. Few men even considered attempting to imitate Ziggy Stardust because it seemed untouchable to the mainstream.
Presented as a ready-to-wear collection, Anderson’s show paralleled Bowie’s artistry while pushing its accessibility. The balance here is groundbreaking because, unlike Bowie, Anderson intended for this androgyny to be imitated. Will it be on the racks at Target? Probably not. But will it be filling the pages of mainstream menswear fashion magazines? Absolutely. The key to changing fashion’s gender injustices is infiltrating the mainstream male audience with the androgynous underground.
Maybe such a drastic change won’t happen this year, but it is evident that Anderson has paved the way to reaching gender equality in fashion.
“You’re more likely to want to sleep with a guy in jeans and a T-shirt,” Anderson said during a July 2012 interview with SHOWstudio. “But does that help an industry? I don’t think so. I think we have to push things. Things still have to be pushed because ultimately, in 10 years time, that will be normal.”
Hopefully within 10 years, dressing like a man will entail casually throwing on Anderson’s Little Black Dress and walking to work in outfits matching female passersby. While the notion may sound ludicrous, our future is undeniably defined by the fearless few that push limits.