Image: AP Images/John Aquino/WWD/REX Shutterstock/Getty - Vivien Killilea
LONDON — Fashion month is in full force. With London Fashion Week coming to a close and Milan about to begin, the one phrase on the tip of everyone's tongue is gender fluidity. In fashion, that's manifesting as unisex- and cross-dressing — everywhere.
Gender fluidity is everywhere in fashion right now. Cross-dressing is now the new dressing up, and it's shaping the industry to be its most exciting period ever.
Further, those who adhere to more traditional gender roles in their style are now being labeled as antiquated and outdated.
Certainly, cross-dressing and unisex style has been a mainstay in the LGBTQ community for skirts decades, but its prevalence has been spreading to the masses for the previous few runway seasons. In the past year alone, brands like New York's Nicopanda and Hood By Air and even European high fashion labels like Gucci, Burberry and Saint Laurent are experimenting with these non-conforming looks.
On Monday's Burberry runway, men sported dainty and delicate sheer lace shirts. This comes after Gucci made headlines for unabashedly making its men look consciously feminine. Saint Laurent had its men in blouses and high heels for its collection in January. So did Hood By Air earlier this month, where the brand showcased men stomping confidently in open-toed, well-heeled sandals.
The fall Saint Laurent show was all about gender-bending, as seen in this look where a male model sports men in skirts here a blouse, tight leather trousers, and boots with heels.
"For me, it's the new normal and it is my truth," said Nicola Formichetti to Mashable, of his genderless fashion brand, Nicopanda. Formichetti's own New York Fashion Week show had men in sheer pink tops and matching shorts, with others in frilly skirts and dresses.
"We've become more of an open society around people who are gay, straight, bi, trans, and we're not scared anymore to dress however we want to. If a boy wears a skirt or a dress, why can't he?"
And he certainly can, at least, if history has any say in it.
"We can safely say, 'What is old is new again," said Tom Kalenderian, executive vice president and general merchandiser for Men’s at Barneys New York.
According to the executive, the unisex movement is resurfacing from when it peaked in the late 1960s, a time when the very word became a household term. It then morphed into gender-bending, with icons like Elton John, David Bowie, Boy George, among others, leading the way for the movement in future decades.
Kalenderian pointed no further than Rudi Gernreich, the godfather of the "monokini," or the topless swimsuit. "Gernreich proposed identical 'costumes' for both men and women, sometimes 'unikinis,' sometimes caftans," he said. "We laughed it off as a byproduct of the mod era, but was [he] really predicting the future? Or maybe even [referencing] the past?"
He has a point. Going back further in history, one need only look to the invention of the high heel, originally worn by men for men, who utilized the footwear for practical horseback-riding purposes. It was King Louis XIV who famously sported the look and made it popular in the 18th century.
Louis XIV, King of France (1638-1715)
And speaking of horseback-riding, it sparked inspiration for women as well. Coco Chanel revolutionized womenswear when she created the first fashionable trousers for women. Dresses and skirts, Chanel said, weren't appropriate for equestrian occasions.
"I gave women a sense of freedom," she said once. "I gave them back their bodies: bodies that were drenched in sweat, due to fashion's finery, lace, corsets, underclothes, padding."
In recent history, it was men again who inspired the gender-bending movement in high fashion, thanks to Jean Paul Gaultier and his avant-garde catwalks of the '90s. The French designer had men sporting skirts down the runway, something that, until just a few months ago, was still considered too flamboyant a look. (David Beckham was far beyond his time when he sported one of Gaultier's famous sarong skirts in 1998.)
Today, NBA players from James Harden to Russell Westbrook have redefined masculinity, wearing outfits including skirts, expanding the definition of menswear. Kanye West, the purveyor of cool, once had tongues wagging when he wore a Givenchy kilt onstage for a performance.
Even retail stores like Selfridge's have adopted the movement. It opened a shop called Agender, with genderless clothing only.
"Androgyny, gender blurring, unisex clothing, cross-dressing or however you refer to it is by no means a new movement, but it is definitely having a moment now and it's here to stay," said Alice Casely-Hayford, online fashion editor at Hunger magazine. "It is growing more prevalent with every season as fashion embraces a new cultural shift and the breakdown of gender boundaries."
For Shayne Oliver, creative director at Hood By Air, sexuality and its confines has now become an afterthought. When he had his men stomping down his runway this season in heels, it wasn't to make a statement or to be daring.
"We didn't want to do a men in heels thing," he explained to Mashable. "If they had enough attitude to pull it off, then cool. The thought process was if it's available for you to try out, then cool. It's all about confidence; if you feel you can wear heels, then do it."
As for Barneys New York, Kalenderian said what they carry is beautiful clothes that are stylistically less rigid and go outside the confines of what is traditionally defined a masculine or feminine.
"This trend is not slowing down now or in the near future," he said. Rather it was "one that is going through another cycle with a new generation."
Which means that if a man so chooses to sport a dress or skirt out and about, so be it. Because in the very near future, it probably will be the norm, and in some places already is.Topics: Fashion, History, lfw, LGBT, Lifestyle, london fashion week
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