Can Fashion be truly subversive when it comes to gender?
From Gucci to Givenchy, the resurgence of androgynous fashion has become an undeniably huge influencer. Culminating with a mass political and cultural understanding of transgender identification, it can be strongly argued that fashion does in fact raise awareness of transgender issues.
In the past two years the number of transgender models on the runway has increased, although, not by much. Most notably perhaps, Dutch born Valentijn de Hingh became the first transgender model to be represented by IMG models but since her appointment only one other transgender model has been signed by the company. Lack of accurate representation aside, this appointment by IMG is still huge and the use of transgender models in high fashion shows significant progress towards mainstream acceptance.
Andreja Pejic has walked for Jean Paul Gaultier, Marc Jacobs and Thome Browne to name a few and notes the feeling of definite change in fashion as it coincides with a huge cultural movement. Speaking to Vogue she said: “There are just more categories now. It’s good. We’re finally figuring out that gender and sexuality are more complicated”. Whilst Pejic is fortunate is being of the few able to afford gender-confirmation surgery (the procedure costs £12,800), her work in fashion should not be dismissed as a trend nor insignificant in the fight for trans visibility.
Away from fashion, beauty can also be looked to for progress. Lea T , the first transgender model for Givenchy, became the first transgender model to front a beauty campaign last year when she modelled for Redken hair colour. An important milestone, Lea’s campaign shows her beauty as something to be wanted by all women. Designer shows featuring androdgynous models, while showing greater representation, have a very exclusive audience, but with beauty this isn’t the case.
Attitudes towards gender from the designers themselves have certainly cooled from what once would have been shock at breaking gender norms. Lazaro Hernandez, co-founder of Proenza Schouler, said: “Nobody cares anymore. The distinction between man and woman is disappearing…. As a designer, you reflect the culture, and this is a big facet of our culture right now”. Culturally speaking the changes in gender norms in the world of fashion have been happening alongside such events as Laverne Cox’s Time cover, Obama being the first President to publicly say the word transgender and 16.9 million people watching Caitlyn Jenner’s first interview on her transition.
Ultimately fashion has become a bigger than ever platform for the trans community. Whilst beyond the catwalk trans people continue to face some of the worst discrimination in our society, the rise of non-gendered fashion and transgender models has certainly opened up a global discussion on gender identification. Here’s to hoping that the change seen in the last five years continues well into the long-term future.
The role of fashion in affirming or subverting social expectations has long since been debated by journalists, designers and consumers alike. The argument surrounding gender is one to be approached with caution. With a rise in discussion and support surrounding the LGBT community, and rightly so, determining what role fashion played in this movement is difficult.
The fashion industry has traditionally supported a division of the genders, into womenswear and menswear by operating different fashion seasons, collections and even sales techniques. Whilst it is true that fashion, historically, has served to reflect the culture of the time, if fashion can’t understand and balance gender, it shouldn’t be in a position to influence transgender culture, or more importantly, how it is viewed by those outside of it?
Recently, a merger of women’s and menswear shows has caused a stir amongst fashion critics. But is it enough? The view can be taken that this new movement is a marketing strategy rather than a socio-political statement. Similarly, it could be viewed that Zara’s high street ‘unisex’ line was merely a commodification of underlying issues surrounding gender. Shapeless t-shirts and hoodies are not ‘genderless’ items – truly gender subversive items should allow people to take pride in how they identify, not conceal their shape under oversized items. Furthermore, there is a distinct argument from a feminist slant that some supposedly ‘androgynous’ items do little to help for gender equality. For example, sticking a female model in a trouser suit and oversized blazer – is this really androgynous, or a subtle perpetuation of the notion that women are constantly seeking to ‘be more like men’, the supposedly more powerful gender.
In my view, fashion has a long way to go before it can really be viewed as aiding the transgender movement and its acceptability in modern society. The traditional division of gender in fashion needs to be broken. Of course it is not just about the clothes, non-gender conforming models should be the ones cast in ‘genderless’ lines, rather than capitalising on the androgynous trend through high profile models who appropriate the movement. Gender division is outdated, and it’s time fashion caught up. As genderless fashion house Machine-A creative director Stavros Karelis said “Would someone ask if skating is men’s or women’s? Or if Skepta’s latest track is made for boys or girls? Similarly, why do we need to divide fashion?”.