1. Biology having both female and male characteristics;
2. being neither distinguishably masculine nor feminine, as in dress, appearance, or behaviour.
Handbags are for women and suits are for men, right? Wrong – according to just about everyone in the fashion industry! Distinctive masculine-feminine boundaries have long since disappeared and now it is a free-for-all world when it comes to societies’ expectations of fashion. This evolving trend has always been intriguing and at the forefront of the progression of fashion, leading us to where we are today – relaxed about gender-blurring fashion and wearing whatever we want.
It was one of the main themes for SS14 catwalks with designers such as Lacoste, JW Anderson, Burberry, and DKNY (just to name a few) presenting us with ultra-feminine styles for the men, and masculine cuts for the women. However, despite the seemingly recent development in the shifting boundaries we previously succumbed to, there has always been an interesting relationship between gender and fashion, which can be traced way back in time. Throughout history there have always been the same gendered associations with clothing being challenged and they have always held a relationship to ‘power, status and acceptability’.
Rebecca C. Tuite is a writer and fashion historian based in New York City, where she is a PhD Candidate at the Bard Graduate Center and Gallery. Her first book, Seven Sisters Style: The All-American Preppy Look, will be published in April by Rizzoli.
She says, “Styles being borrowed by women from men (and vice versa) have always prompted a fervent reassessment of societal norms – from the shock of seeing women in bloomers (trousers), to the apprehension aimed at the first ‘man bags’ coming onto the scene, which is why this is always a subject ripe for discussion”.
We take a look with Rebecca at some of the main fashion trends that have evolved over time, starting with Bloomers – an early women’s trouser.
The bloomer suit, named after the women’s rights activist and clothing reformer, Amelia Bloomer, is a landmark moment in the history of women wearing trousers. The Bloomer Suit started life as a pair of loose trousers, gathered and tied at the ankles and worn beneath a skirt or dress. While bloomers under skirts were certainly a shade more practical for preserving one’s modesty while bike riding, or more convenient for doing various jobs or leisure activities, they still were not exactly easy to wear. Nor did the skirt make them invisible, and even just the sight of ankles peeking out from bloomers was enough to cause controversy.
A woman wearing anything that was remotely masculine was still a major shock during the nineteenth century, so even though bloomers were quite voluminous and could almost be mistaken for a skirt, there was no denying that they were, essentially, a pair of trousers and this created great unrest. Ultimately, the impact of the Bloomer Suit was an incredible legacy whereby women could wear clothes that better suited their daily wants and needs, no longer restricted by clothing expectations.
The women’s suit
The most iconic moment for the women’s suit is Yves Saint Laurent’s Le Smoking, unveiled in 1966, much to the chagrin of conservative traditionalists everywhere. Certainly, women had been pinching garments from the wardrobes of male relatives for years and there had been no shortage of high-wattage film stars who had glamorized a more masculine-inspired and tailored look (ahem, Marlene Dietrich!).
However, what was different with smoking was that this was the moment that a suit was considered a genuinely viable alternative to a dress or a skirt for chic, strong, intelligent and fashion-conscious women. And of course, it found great many fans: As the women’s movement gained momentum throughout the 1960s, a sharp, clean tuxedo was even more appealing to modern and increasingly independent women. While many restaurants and bars still enforced a “skirts for women; jackets and ties for men” rule during the 1960s, Le Smoking challenged what was considered to be appropriate public, formal wear for women, and we see its influence in women’s tailoring even today.
Joseph Harrison is a fashion and travel blogger, and has been blogging for almost two years now. Since his work placement in Newark, USA he has relished in a lifestyle of travelling. Now he is back in England where he’s currently finishing off his tourism degree, but he still finds time for the odd adventure.
He says, “Men’s fashion has evolved greatly over the years, from the times when wearing make-up was only acceptable for women; guys are finally making a stand. Looking back to the early 1980’s the ‘New Romantics’ sported their larger than life hairstyles teamed with their guy-liner and man-scara. How things have changed! Or have things always been like this? From the beginning of time men had their own fashion sense and way of styling their look.”
Joseph looks at various trends, and celebrities that paved the way for modern men in fashion…
One man that has to be mentioned is the footballer, Sir David Beckham. Mr Beckham has definitely pushed the boundaries when it comes to men’s fashion during the early 00s. Beckham sported matching sarongs and leather biker suits. That sarong moment caused a lot of controversy for Mr Beckham, but to be honest in a certain way he opened a lot of new and acceptable trends for the modern British man. Over the last ten years ‘Brand Beckham’ has changed the way we look at men’s fashion, from a sporting personality to a fashion god David Beckham has undoubtedly made his mark on the evolution of men’s fashion.
The man bag
A clutch bag for men? Bonkers you may think but I would proudly sport a statement piece item to match my fashion ensemble. I think that it’s crucial not beat down women’s fashion but to simply join them, well in certain aspects. A clutch bag can be branded as a ‘stylish document holder’ so the man in-question doesn’t feel emasculated whatsoever. I think gay men are more daring with fashion choices, so is that why I would be more inclined to take this statement piece on a night out? I guess that’s just so. Captured to the left sits a perfect example of a sophisticated and understated man’s clutch bag. I want one of those now! So guys, would you throw caution to the wind and buy one of these beauties? It’s got to be more convenient than just shoving your wallet into your back pocket. By day this stylish item could be used to store an iPad or even documents that you need for the office; and when the sun does go down it could be perfect to store the essentials like your bank card and keys, because no-one likes to lose anything important!
From the deserts of Morocco came the ‘Harem Pants’. This once simple Moroccan farmer’s daily wear became the essential item to buy on the high street. Harem pants have been sported by the rapper Kayne West so in popular culture this fashion item is quite acceptable. Bedouin culture from the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa has changed the way men dress in our modern world. This fashion development is ingenious because an essential style of fashion has seamlessly been transformed into a look that’s acceptable for today’s fashion conscious man. Please forgive me as I forget to mention that the legendary M.C. Hammer paved the way for the ‘Harem Pants’ during the release of his 1990’s single ‘Can’t Touch This!’ It’s easy to say that fashion’s just like a washing machine… those trends just keep on turning!
Being a fashion forward man doesn’t have to cost you the earth – I’m the definition of a poor student so I feel other guys in my situation because looking good is all part of life. The world is changing and we men need to embrace the fashion and beauty advancements that are being unveiled. Guys don’t be worried or intimidated about your fellow brother for we all should be flawless and en-trend for the Stone Age is over. So, wearing a little concealer doesn’t make you any less macho or carrying a clutch bag to the office or the club isn’t lady like at all. Remember the golden rule is to stay forward with your fashion because we’ve all got to be dressed to kill!
Are You Dressed To Kill?