Blurring the Lines of Masculinity and Fashion

Men failing to dress to fit with hegemonic masculinity may still be put at risk, personally and professionally, which acts to preserve the gender order.

Article by Sally Paton

Song for the Mute. Photography by Daphne Nguyen Photography

There is no natural link between a garment and a specific gender but dressing against gender norms is relatively rare. While the wearing of trousers by women in the West has been done since the early twentieth century, they have often faced ridicule and resistant legislators. After all, it took until 1993 for women to be allowed to wear trousers on the U.S. Senate floor. The donning of trousers by women may have represented a critical adjustment in the definition of femininity and gifted the freedom of movement in daily life and work, but it hasn’t necessarily led to a revolution in the way we dress. Women have had an easier time adopting masculine coded garments than men have had embracing feminine clothes.

Yet, throughout history, men’s clothing typically included some variant of a dress. Roman men wore togas, Kimonos in Japan often included a skirt as the lower garment and were extremely valuable in society as meaningful family heirlooms. Scottish and Irish men wore kilts, Chinese men, Hanfu. Skirts were a key piece of almost every ancient outfit for men because they were easy to create and comfortable to wear.

It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that men began to incorporate longer and tighter trousers into their everyday wardrobes. This is where most people believe the gender divide became evident in fashion, as men stuck with pants and women continued to mostly wear skirts. Certain articles of clothing quickly became attached to specific genders. In “The Symposium”, Plato wrote that we were all hermaphrodites (now termed intersex) until the gods decided to split us in two. The notion of men having feminine and women masculine traits has entered the mainstream now, but even so, we continue to favour convention when it comes to our appearance.

There are many ways we express masculinity through our appearance: short hair, baggy clothes, loafers, and relaxed suiting. When worn by a woman, a classic suit is labelled a “power suit”, as if simply wearing something masculine allows the female wearer to adopt the elevated status and power of a man. These changes in fashion have been influenced by a perception of gender constantly in flux. We have all questioned why blue is for boys, why “men will be men” is used to normalise violence and aggression, and what we mean when we say “the clothes make the man”.

While men still hold more power in modern society, men in skirts should be prepared to field questions about their masculinity. A man in a skirt is not only perceived as looking feminine but being feminine. Men failing to dress to fit with hegemonic masculinity may be put at risk, personally and professionally, which acts to preserve the gender order. We only need to look at the cyclone of discourse and news covered when Harry Styles graced the cover of Vogue in a lace dress to see how underdeveloped our bandwidth to accept feminised fashion on men can be. For fashion-forward men, this has led to hybrid masculinity. They will attend Thom Browne shows in skirts and dresses, but it’s rare to see gender-fluid sartorial choices extend beyond the front rows of Fashion Week.

Song for the Mute. Photography by Daphne Nguyen Photography.

For now, women can relish the fact that borrowing from our boyfriends, brothers, or fathers’ wardrobes is not only socially acceptable but a fashionable choice. Women have widely claimed male cut jeans as boyfriend jeans, and an oversized blazer is the uniform of the chic and cool fashion-forward woman. The social nature of masculinity is a pattern of practice and one rife with complexity and contradiction. Today, it seems more apt to talk about “masculinities” in the plural, to underscore the many ways in which one can be a man, become one, or choose to dress like one.

One of the more interesting questions is what do we have to learn from the way men shop and dress? We’ve noted that many of the men we live and work beside will wear their clothes to death, don the same outfit as a form of uniform, and would sooner go without pants than wearing something which made them uncomfortable. Their choices began to transform in our minds from cavalier to a more conscious form of consumption, something we had been rallying behind since we awoke to the environmental impact of our lust for an ever-updated wardrobe.

Inspired by a surf-punk aesthetic with a focus on luxury tailoring and relaxed fits, NONPLUS, a collaboration by Gareth Moody and Maurice Terzini, transforms classic menswear into elevated and androgenous essentials. Co-creator Gareth Moody says, “The search for the perfect everyday uniform is something that challenges me… this collaboration, years in the making, has brought me one step closer”. Their capsule collection stays true to the designers’ heritage in menswear, presenting traditionally masculine shapes, from contemporary tailoring and everyday staples, for a unisex modern capsule wardrobe.

As Showroom X co-founder, Kelly Atkinson, describes it, “We strive to be an innovative platform that isn’t restricted by the “business as usual’ restraints of the fashion industry at present. So when creative genius Maurice Terzini, of Ten Pieces, Icebergs dining room & bar and CicciaBella, and his friend Gareth Moody, of Chronicles of Never, approached us to launch, we knew this was a great chance to do something different.” The collaboration introduced “masculine wear” as a category to Showroom-X, designed to be worn by women and men alike.

Binding genders so closely to clothing ultimately limits how people can live comfortably and candidly express themselves. It instils a fear of judgment that no one should feel. Our sartorial choices are one of the first ways we learn to show who we are to the world. It should be personal, and we will do whatever we can to give you the freedom of choice.

Kelly Atkinson is the Creative Director of Showroom X. For more articles written by her, visit the Showroom X blog and website.