September 20, 2021

Review : Are ‘feminine’ looks the future of men’s fashion?

Ome fashion tendencies creep up on you. Other folks ring out clear and loud. Last week, as the Spring ’14 menswear shows kicked off at London, one trend sounded with all the subtlety of an air horn: androgyny is the new black. The most forceful expression of this theme came out of up-and-coming brand JW Anderson. The five-year-old label contains collections for women and men, and designer Jonathan Anderson likes to overlap the look of the two. Last season, for example, Anderson revealed pairs of ruffled shorts for guys like the ones in his Spring ’13 womenswear collection. And this time, Anderson’s dominant shape was a lean ruler paired with fluid, elongated pants, another shape he had started to pronounce in his previous womenswear show. “Atrocious,” sneered The Daily Mail.
Anderson is upfront about the fact he enjoys testing the bounds between men’s and women’s clothing. But he insists he’s not setting out to create controversy; for him, the gender-bending emerges organically, out of formal risk-taking. “In a sense, it is funny that people had such a strong response to that look,” Anderson tells me. “I meanthat top began as a long raglan mac. And then we cut the sleeves off, and then we made it brief. When you’re at the studio,” he goes on,”this sort of experimentation feels ordinary. In fact, it’s the stage. You’re playing with a piece of cloth, attempting to make a new line, a new percentage. But then you present that to the planet, on a runway, and it becomes this’thing. ”’ If Jonathan Anderson were an outlier, one angry designer whipping up androgynous looks from a surfeit of aesthetic zeal, that would be intriguing. However, what’s more intriguing is that the fact that Anderson isn’t alone. In Alexander McQueen, creative director Sarah Burton opened the series with a fitted suit of lace. The Topman series featured fanciful cowboys, and embroidered florals. At a particular stage, it began to feel unjust, or random, to consider those appearances as’feminine’. I found myself wonderingwho determined that men could not wear lace? Or skirts, for that matter? Back in early Greece, men were wearing togas, right? When did all this vigilance about masculinity happen, exactly?
“I feel like we’ve been in a really conservative moment,” notes Martine Rose, another London-based menswear designer who tests sex conventions with her clothes. “It’s so lazy, this way of thinking — that’real’ guys wear this, but perhaps not that. I was actually affected by [funk artist ] Rick James, for this particular collection,” she continues,”and he was so sexy, so gangster, and sporting ruffled tops and thigh-high red boots. He wasn’t allowing his garments define his sexuality. Rose’s new group featured all manner of’feminine’ detail. What made it intriguing, however, was the fact that the mindset of the clothes has been so incontrovertibly masculine. Rose brings a whole lot of inspiration from sport, and beyond that, from the way even non-sporty guys end up integrating athletic kit into their wardrobes. This year, she expanded this notion into lace-frilled running shorts and blouson trousers with all the indolent slouch of tracksuit bottoms. “Footballers back in the seventies, they had to wear those little shorts,” Rose muses. “nobody has been questioning their manliness; other guys wanted to appear like themin fact. Plus they were hot, those footballers. They had the confidence to show their bodiesand to be playful.” Confidence. If there’s one thing that these new androgynous looks demand of men, it’s that. Which raises the question: have the über-masculine looks dominating menswear up to now been signaling a crisis of man confidence?
As soon as the Atlantic magazine releases cover stories which trumpet’The conclusion of Men’, it’s tempting to read the advent of Don Draper,mens fashion icon, as directing nostalgia for an era when men were the breadwinners. Likewise, the rise of earthy appearances — lumberjack hipsters, and that — might be symptomatic of revanchist idolatry of the’manly’ guy, who would neverchange a diaper. However, you could just as easily assert that Mad Men fetishists in the US are really just sentimental for the times when America was coming in the world. And all those guys in their Woolrich parkas and plaid flannel, well, possibly their dreams are of working together with the challenging, physical thing of earth, rather than the e-stuff and iThings of their virtual age. The purpose is, clothing can be complicated. They can tell a few tales, all at one time. And so it is entirely likely that there is more to this gender-blurring trend moment than gender.
Dandyism, wrote the 19th Century poet and essayist Charles Baudelaire, emerges in times of transition. And in such moments, he asserted,”that a certain number of men, disenchanted and leisured’outsiders’…may conceive the idea of establishing a new sort of aristocracy.” What Baudelaire is speaking about, of course, is preference. And if Jonathan Anderson explains that his contentious halter tops were the product of his desire to create”a new lineup,” he’s talking about taste, too. So is Charlie Casely-Hayford, co-founder of this luxury menswear new Casely-Hayford, when he says that female elements offer his brand’s natty suits a sense of”refinement.” You could argue that what we’re seeing on menswear runways right now is that the establishment of Baudelaire’s aristocracy of taste. The people in the front row were perfectly blasé about the halter shirts at JW Anderson’s show. Their focus was on the way Anderson finessed the look, and his certainty in selling it
There is a sort of ivory tower thinking at work in this, no doubt about it. But I am willing to wager that, given some time, the general public will come around to a version of this new unisex aesthetic. And the feminine influence is already apparent in a handful of brands, such as Casely-Hayford, that traffic in relatively normal men’s clothes.