Androgyny: Stripping Fashion of its Gender

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Androgyny and women’s fashion are two concepts often seen together – we’re all used to the sharp lines of Tom Ford suits, and the wonderful craftsmanship of Alexander McQueen tailoring. But androgyny in menswear? Now that’s something we don’t often see. So when a host of designers treated us to their stereotype/gender/every-menswear-rule-defying designs at the menswear AW16 shows this month, it’s safe to say that it got our attention.

This wasn’t just a case of dressing the male models in skirts, or tights, or anything else remotely associated with womenswear and labelling it “androgynous”. Designers stepped outside of gender boundaries altogether, making the very notion of having distinct ‘menswear’ and ‘womenswear’ irrelevant.

In Florence, Pitti Immagine’s ‘Less’ collection – from guest designer Juun.J – made headlines for its merged offering. Floor-length, sweeping silhouettes and exaggeratedly oversized jackets reflected the very words that were embossed onto the clothes themselves: “Genderless”, “Genreless”, “Limitless”. Back in London, J.W. Anderson also displayed an amalgamation of styles that held no particular loyalty to either gender: oversized cardigans, fur, cropped jackets and satin pyjama-like-suits to name but a few.

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Alessandro Michele’s Gucci offering, too, was very much undictated by gender norms. In his first year as Creative Director at the premium brand, Michele has completely reinvented the Gucci image: replacing the brand’s sleek sensuous styles with a quirky, gender-blurring menswear collection for his Autumn 2015 show. And this season was no different. With no clear direction or theme, models looked as though they had been raiding vintage shops to no end. Each look evoked a different era, a different palette, a different structure, but most importantly, each look was in no way defined by a particular gender.

It seems so wonderfully simple – removing any notion of gender from fashion – but why is this only happening now? In a tragic yet poignantly fitting way, the passing of David Bowie last month has reminded us of his trailblazing efforts in removing stigma (and gender) from fashion. Bowie helped introduce fashion to androgyny through the effortless fluidity with which he expressed his sexuality. From the patterned jumpsuit he wore as Ziggy Stardust, to the dress he wore for the sleeve of The Man Who Sold the World, Bowie’s changing image throughout his 50-year career was as complex as it was ingenious. One of the many lessons we can take from this great talent is that fashion, like anything, is a flexible concept whose boundaries can and must be pushed.

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As news of Bowie’s passing broke, both Burberry and Gucci paid tribute. His songs were played both before and after the Burberry show, as a stunning introduction and a fitting conclusion to the collection. Gucci’s tribute was more blatant, with Michele creating an embroidered, patched wool cardigan featuring the late singer’s name emblazoned across its back. Both emphasised Bowie’s omnipotent influence and its ability to transcend the music industry into fashion.

Indeed, Bowie’s influence can again be seen today through the growing transgender revolution. Fashion and society are moving towards a place of acceptance, and though there is still a lot of progress to be made, the mood is definitely changing. This notion of fluidity, of not having to commit to one idea or stereotype, is penetrating society – and rightly so.

It seems a natural progression, therefore, that androgynous fashion should be gracing our catwalks. What has previously been labelled ‘androgyny’ is really nothing of the sort: simply borrowing influence from the other gender when inspiration is running low is not revolutionary. It is this exciting new direction, this confronting of what has, for too long now, been brushed away by society as ‘taboo’, that is driving these brave genderless fashions. I mean seriously, gender is so last season.

Sarah Hammond

Cover image: www.dazeddigital.com

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