BOY MEETS GIRL
Androgyny in fashion is a somewhat ambiguous concept. For S/S ’16, there were menswear collections explicitly influenced by the traditionally feminine, like ruffles and lace (see Burberry Prorsum, Gucci) while some more streetwear centric collections were neither masculine nor feminine (see Craig Green, Rick Owens).
While androgyny is not a new concept in fashion, it has historically been more notable in womenswear (think Katharine Hepburn, Lauren Bacall). But women’s appropriation of menswear has a feminist bent. “When cock is king you go for the codpiece,” says Valerie Steele, fashion historian, curator, and director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology. “Men have always ruled the roost, so why would they want to diminish that by wearing something that’s associated with women? They must either re-appropriate the item, like earrings, which have only become macho in the last few decades. Or a celebrity, particularly a sports star like David Beckham in a sarong, must serve as a green light. The sentiment then is ‘I’m masculine enough to wear this; it doesn’t mean that I’m effeminate.’”
So, is androgyny commercially viable in 2015? Bruce Pask, fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman, was “excited by the permissiveness, the gender fluidity in the spring shows. Alessandro Michele’s Gucci collection reminded me of Kurt Cobain and how he often blurred gender boundaries with his wardrobe choices. The show felt both romantic and rock-n’-roll rebellious at the same time, with a wonderful, charmingly eccentric array of outfits that had a lot of heart and a huge amount of appeal.” I would agree. I would wear one of those lace shirts in a flash (no pun intended), and similarly the femininity in Christopher Bailey’s ‘Strait-Laced’ shirts and ties for Burberry Prorsum was balanced by the formality of the more traditional suits they were worn with.
But if there’s little question that the Goodman customer is an ‘early adopter,’ what about the rest of America? “The average American men’s customer is not thinking about androgyny,” says Durand Guion, VP, men’s fashion director at Macy’s. “It will take some time before we really start to commercialize androgyny. It’s more of a story than it is a reality for anyone other than a very small percentage of style leaders. Gender roles to our core customer are key: that’s what helps navigate their purchasing decisions.”
Other experts agree. For example, Steele sees the more feminine aspects of the trend like “the men’s dresses in Shayne Oliver’s Hood By Air collection” as something that is “always going to be a niche phenomenon.”
But with that more feminine-styled men’s clothing at one end of the spectrum, there is the more genderless clothing on the other. “I think that what men and women are really embracing is the unisex look that we’re seeing in athleisure, active wear, and streetwear,” says Saks Fifth Avenue VP, men’s fashion director Eric Jennings. “It’s not the lace and the very directional items we’re seeing in a few shows; it’s the long layered T-shirts and the joggers. That is what’s more relevant, more commercial than isolated instances like the pussy bows at Gucci, and the lace at Burberry.”
So while a unisex aesthetic will drive the androgyny trend, opinions on more explicitly feminine menswear vary. Steele sees it as something that will “always be a niche,” Pask sees it as appealing, and Guion as “an idea that will take decades to become a true commercial sensibility, if ever.” But women in suits were once a scandal, and as Guion goes on to say, “Millennial customers are constantly breaking down taboos.” In other words, never say never.