As the latest menswear collections indicate, we’re moving ever closer and closer to a society in which gender simply doesn’t matter — from gender neutral bathrooms to Facebook’s embrace of the gender spectrum and iconic Selfridges doing away with binary clothing departments all together.
Fashion can either reenforce or radically alter traditional gender roles — but it also interprets cultural shifts. And the transformation we are seeing in the Millennials’ understanding of gender is starting to be reflected everywhere, from Hollywood to high school and the workplace.
For the past 50 years or so, women’s fashion has had a notable flirtation with le masculine, but increasingly men’s fashion, too, has straddled the gender divide.
With the transgender equality movement challenging the way we perceive gender and younger generations comfortable rejecting and redefining identity, let’s take a look at how fashion has and continues to influence the way we see and represent gender.
An Enlightened Idea
The Enlightenment first introduced to the Western world the idea of fashion as a barometer of culture and society, as well as a means of self-expression. Here we see the roots of fashion’s impact on gender representation — and how it has changed in some 300 years.
Le smoking in the Girls’ Room
“Woman into Man”
Featuring female models (including Gia Carangi) in dual roles, Helmut Newton’s iconic “Woman into Man” series for Vogue Paris in 1979 played provocatively with masculin/féminin.
And Boy George.
Let’s Talk About Unisex
The high-octane, cocaine-fueled hedonism of the ’80s gave way to the more somber ’90s, with glam going grunge. Here, Naomi Campbell and Kristen McMemany smell like teen spirit in Marc Jacobs’s controversial collection for Perry Ellis, photographed by Steven Meisel for Vogue in 1992.
A rise in contempo-casual also saw a uniformity in the way men and women dressed, as seen in this popular Gap khaki ad.
Supermodels of the World
Having high-stepped in haute couture shows and starred in commercial campaigns, trans supermodels Lea T (giving life above) and Andreja Pejic continue to break down barriers in the billion dollar fashion and beauty industries. In November Redken partnered with Lea T, making her the first transgender model to become the face of a global cosmetics brand.Meanwhile, Andreja — seen here making her return to the runway in Giles Fall 2015 show in London — will break into the movie biz in a role in Sofia Coppola’s upcoming Little Mermaid.
“The lines between male and female have become increasingly blurred,” trend-forecaster extraordinaire Lucie Greene told The New York Times, noting those blurred lines reflected in the fall collections by a number of gender-bending menswear designers including Hood by Air and Telfar (above).
Selfridges — the second largest department store in the UK, but voted best in the world — is doing away with its mens and womens departments , as well as their traditional mannequins, in favor of gender-neutral shopping.
“We want to take our customers on a journey where they can shop and dress without limitations or stereotypes,” a spokesperson told The Sunday Times. “A space where clothing is no longer imbued with directive gender values, enabling fashion to exist as a purer expression of ‘self.”’
Les Fabian Brathwaite, open to the world since 1985.