From dandyism to androgyny, to unisex, to gender neutrality…
What are masculinity and femininity today? An honorary question that somehow got regular status in the fashion industry. With fashion repeatedly questioning our notions of what is femininity and masculinity by merging men’s and women’s collections on the catwalks, gender-neutral garments, magazines echoing androgyny as the ultimate trend, adding ‘unisex/non-binary’ as a new category in the New York Fashion Week collections, we are trying to grasp these supposedly recent evolutions in fashion.
But are they so recent? Although the terms androgyny or unisex might sound a bit archaic today, using those terms just a few years ago was part of the fashion vocabulary in relation to the biggest trends who happen to never cease to exist. And how about androgyny in relation to dandyism? Well, that can be the Pandora’s box of inspirational ideas for the fashion as we know it. These ‘retro’ terms which are now modernly comprehended under the umbrella ‘gender-neutral’ or ‘genderless’ are continually being acclaimed for their immense contribution to fashion and its broad meaning as a social and cultural barometer.
Contemporary fashion publications encourage their readers to think of themselves in terms of appearances, and thus to become more and more open about challenging ‘prefabricated’ gender roles and the possible fusion between masculinity and femininity. In Susan Sontag’s words “What is the most beautiful in virile men is something feminine, what is most beautiful in feminine women is something masculine.” Diverse images in fashion publications and various online outlets associated with androgyny, dandies or unisex, can be seen as an indication of the struggle to define women’s and men’s identities. The style is being labeled as ‘powerful concept’, ‘Mrs. Dandy’, ‘elegant androgyny’, ‘androgyny cool’, ‘androgyny chic’, ‘newish androgyny’, or ‘haute androgyny’. The constant play with the concepts/styles of androgyny, dandyism, unisex, and gender neutrality in the fashion realm can be interpreted as a signal of a society that is now more open towards gender fusion or a ‘repeatable’ tendency which is an exploitative form for the fashion industry. Layers of meanings are given to these concepts in recent years, but given the variety of visual evidence, it is difficult to detect the differences of what is described as androgyny, unisex, dandyism, or gender neutral.
The androgynously toned fashion had a tendency to constantly reappear in the period following the First World War at times reaching a zenith, especially with the unisex styling from mid-60’s and late 70’s, to the 80’s punk movement, then to the 90’s representation of androgynous models in ad campaigns, and ultimately to today’s notion of gender neutrality.
Male fashion followers will be sporting androgynous, even outright feminine looks according to Gucci’s spring/summer 2016 catwalk shows during Milan Men Fashion Week
Models showcasing creations from DRESSEDUNDRESSED by Japanese designers Takeshi Kitazawa and Emiko Sato, from their 2017 Autumn/Winter Collection show at Tokyo Fashion Week
In a similar tone, the unconventional unisex fashion at first attracted only a limited audience. The attributes of femininity were replaced by those of androgyny, using the unisex mode. Designers such as Jean Paul Gaultier, Giorgio Armani, John Galliano, Kenzo, Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto have purposely pushed the limits of men’s fashion by offering new radical looks. By the 1980’s, utility and practicality were in the fore, with more than a touch of androgyny, ‘His Pants for Her’ epitomized the birth of a mainstream trend. The evidence of today’s fashion fascination with sexual ambiguity is everywhere. The focus of the media is on fashion, but the ideology of ambiguity is in all aspects of popular culture.
As for the dandy ‘phenomenon’ which is alive for over two centuries, even today it is the ultimate symbol of glamorous rebellion against the status quo. Not always avant-garde, the dandy was sometimes a bohemian, sometimes an exclusive vision, always to varying degrees: a rebel. From an act of rebellion in the 19th century, through breaking premeditated gender boundaries in the 20th century to a basic concept for building media stardom, the concept of dandyism has remained a mirror of the society. The dandy has become a transformational myth, and through its reinvention, it represents an exploration of various limits that make creative ideas valuable in fashion terms. To define a contemporary dandy, well… it is a person that mirrors an unconventional fusion of the style of Beau Brummell and Oscar Wilde and a hint of Coco Chanel.
Today’s fashion seems to shift slowly, but surely away from the traditional binary model with both the younger generation of designers as well as established brands and celebrities advocating a non-gender-specific style. As clothes do not have sex, the point is to erase gender-specific presumptions, allowing the fashion audience to covet fashionable items regardless of their own sex and the labels that would normally be attached to clothes.
These fashion sequences offer an exciting journey into an uncharted territory where a new sensuality or new sexuality can be discovered in a milieu where pre-conceived ideas of what’s masculine and what’s feminine no longer endure.