Gender Neutral Fashion
Image by Armen Aydinyan on Unsplash
Axelle Rescourio discusses the increasing move towards gender neutral fashion in mainstream publications such as Vogue
Vogue US December’s issue portraying English singer Harry Styles is an event worldwide. The singer’s Vogue cover is historic in many ways. While the magazine made history by featuring the British musician as its first-ever male cover star since its creation 127 years ago, it certainly made history with Harry Styles wearing a dress. A voluminous periwinkle blue gown paired with a black tuxedo jacket designed by Gucci. Portraying such a celebrity wearing feminine clothes is a step forward in increasingly accepting gender neutral fashion in the mainstream.
The cover immediately generated passionate conversations around masculinity and gendered dressing. Although, the photograph felt representative of a growing exploration of gender-fluidity and non-binary dressing taking place, an exploration popular among the millennial and Gen-Z clientele Vogue is targeted towards. The prominent conservative, close to Donald Trump, Candace Owens voiced disapproval of Styles wearing dresses. She tweeted “bring back manly men.” Before sharing a video where she states, “men in dresses in Vogue, if you don’t realise by now that Hollywood is satanic, and you should not be idealizing those people, I can’t help you.”
However, if you think about it, dresses for men are not a recent creation, nor a Hollywood creation, and neither satanic. Dresses go as far back as to the Romans, who used to wear robes called togas. Gladiators wore leather skirts. Former French King, Louis XIV used to be known for wearing so-called feminine clothes. The kilt as we know Scottish men traditionally wear emerged in the 18th Century. After all, it’s been a while since men have been wearing skirts and dresses.
French designer, Jacques Esterel, had a conviction in the 1970’s: dresses as clothes for men. He launched a collection with an ambitious vision. He explained: “Women have stolen the dress since the 16th century, my collection is called “Exploration 70”, I will gradually take them back, and century after century everything that they’ve taken from us.” His wish will not be granted. A succession of fashion designers took over this idea of men wearing women’s clothes. Until this day, Jean Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood, Marc Jacobs and more, have showcased feminine wardrobe for men in their collections. They somehow fantasize about the idea of men wearing dresses and skirts. Nonetheless, throughout time, celebrities have also played a role in showcasing gender-neutral fashion. The singer and charismatic David Bowie wore a dress on his album cover “The Man Who Sold the World” in the 70’s, or 2016’s face of Louis Vuitton, Jaden Smith is seen in a womenswear campaign wearing women’s clothes.
We are allowed to find men wearing feminine clothes not appealing, and not wanting to wear them, but why bother the ones who do? This is a question that raises Vogue’s cover with Harry Styles. The front page of the magazine however shows a step forward in accepting gender neutral fashion. Indeed, 16 years ago, Tom Burton’s movie Ed Wood, starring Johnny Depp, whose character had a passion for feminine apparels quoted “I like to wear women’s clothes. Panties, brassieres, sweaters, pumps. It’s just something I do.” When the movie came out in 1994, it was intended that Johnny Depp would make it to the cover of Vogue US wearing women’s clothes. However, at that time Anna Wintour, editor of Vogue, refused. 16 years later, she said yes for Harry Styles.
In his cover of Vogue, Harry Styles mentions that “Clothes are there to have fun with and experiment with and play with. […] When you take away ‘there’s clothes for men and there’s clothes for women,’ once you remove any barriers, obviously you open up the arena in which you can play.”
So after all, gender neutral fashion can be both a dress up game or a choice, either being largely accepted within the Gen-Z while still being an emerging step into fashion. Even smaller brands than Gucci or Jean Paul Gautier are starting to create genderless collections for everyone to wear such as Zara and GAP.