The question; “Who wears the pants?” in any relationship doesn’t have the same impact today that it may have had fifty years ago.These days, girls wear pants, boys wear skirts and some male models even wear push up bras.
Androgynous fashion has received an enormous boost in recent years, with top designers sending models down the runway in an array of gender-neutral ensembles.
Riccardo Tisci designed pleated skirts splashed in bird of paradise patterns for Givenchy Spring ‘12, and Rick Owens broke down knee length skirts and lengthy tunics for his Spring ’13 collection.
History shows that this gender-bending style is not a new concept. Actress Katharine Hepburn was an icon of pant-legged erudite sophistication in the early – mid 20th Century. Her off-screen garb consisted of high-waisted palazzo pants, oversized blazers and crisp shirts, in an era when many women were still clinging to their own apron strings.
A current exhibition at the New York Public Library is dedicated to Hepburn’s style. “Katharine Hepburn: Dressed for Stage and Screen” features her film and stage costumes as well as a large selection of her masculine wardrobe, including an array of pant-legged mannequins.
Marlene Dietrich was another early supporter of the androgynous movement. With elegant ease, she mixed her wardrobe of fur coats and bejewelled gowns with three piece suits and bowler hats.
A new breed of female models including Freja Beja Erichsen and Agyness Deyn, as well as fashion stalwarts like Patti Smith and Tilda Swinton eschew the standard view of femininity today, playing on the ambiguous elements of tomboy chic and masculine beauty.
Tailoring in shirts and blazers, collar details and the omnipresent brogue are elements of men’s style that have crept into modern female wardrobes around the globe.
Androgyny doesn’t just fall to ladies dressing like gentlemen of course. Jean Paul Gaultier designed a Fall ‘12 collection that paid homage to some of the most iconic androgynous male stars of the ‘80s including David Bowie, Boy George and Michael Jackson.
All three played with the mystery of pseudo-femininity, sporting make up, long hair and flamboyant clothing as part of their stage and real-life persona.
Australian/Serbian model Andrej Pejic pushes the pseudo-feminine envelope even further, having built an enormous international following with his androgynous look. His delicate features and long blonde locks are deceptively womanly, so much so that he was able to model a push up bra for Dutch department store Hema in a controversial campaign late last year. Pejic has graced the cover of Vogue Paris, V magazine, i-D and L’Officiel, and Jean Paul Gaultier cast him in both his men’s and women’s runways.
The rapid expansion of androgyny in high end fashion is testament to a modern day sartorial regeneration through blurring of gender lines and the standard acceptable forms of design. Without gender preconceptions, fashion is free to be avant garde and interesting.
Designers including Ann Demeulemeester, Bassike, Calvin Klein and even Maison Martin Margiela for H & M are designing collections that can be worn equally by men and women without demarcation.
Earlier this year, Queensland University of Technology graduate Sally Edwards designed her androgynous collection “Boys and Girls are Choice” with the aim to “set aside gender roles and conventions and embrace the androgyny and inadvertent sexiness of a tailored suit or outfit”.
As Jean Paul Gaultier is reported to have said, “Except for the medieval codpiece and the bra, garments have never had a gender.”
Whether you feel stylish in a suit, a sarong or a potato sack, fashion is meant to be about creativity and self expression. The key element to maintaining sartorial savoire faire is to be comfortable in what you wear; be it sharp suiting with cravats and French cuffs, or a man skirt.
Understandably, for the gentlemen, it takes a lot of courage to sport a polo dress a la Tom Ford.
However, ladies, why not draw inspiration this year from Katharine Hepburn and “follow suit”?
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