Fashion: Boys Will be Girls

At the recently ended Men’s Spring 2010 Milan and Paris Fashion Weeks, the blurring of the androgynous fashion line became more entrenched, showing evidence that as a culture, perhaps Western culture, we are still fascinated with gender ambiguity.

By Stephanie Rivers

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Published: Fri 7 Aug 2009, 8:58 PM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 8:17 AM

In recent shows, designers stripped away the machismo layers, exposing the more delicate underpinnings, helping men get in touch with their feminine sides — literally. The visual thread of ‘boys will be girls,’ was akin to watching Annie Hall running in reverse. No longer being about bowler-inspired hats, vests, long sleeved white shirts and khakis, or the Helmut Newton infused Le Smoking tuxedo, but more refined, nuanced feminine pieces for men.

Romanticising androgyny is nothing new of course, it was a phenomenon which came to the forefront of fashion in the late 60s and early 70s, catapulting designers like Yves Saint Laurent, Giorgio Armani and Helmut Lang to their status as ‘masters of the designer universe’ with their ambiguous, unisex clothing that oozed sex appeal.

The night drenched shot of a model on a Paris side street with slicked back hair, cigarette in hand, shirt with tie, neatly packaged in a tuxedo suit, launched women to another stratosphere of sexiness — fully clothed, yet with raw sensuality.

One need look no further than rock stars flamboyant flirtation with androgyny, and Hollywood’s courting of it, to see the continual ambiguous theme.

Rock gods David Bowie, as his glam rock character Ziggy Stardust, and Freddie Mercury, lead singer of Queen, imbued their performances and personas with feminine overtones. Artists Boy George, Michael Jackson and Prince, all exhibited aspects of strong effeminate behavior for much of their careers.

Boy George’s calling card was his prettily made up face, Michael Jackson had the falsetto singing voice and feminine mannerisms, while Prince sported perfectly coiffed hair, flawless make-up and often performed in feminine-inspired clothing. Gender ambiguity has long been captured on celluloid in countless incarnations, from Tim Curries’ character in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, to Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie, to Julie Andrews in Victor/Victoria, to Diane Keaton’s Annie Hall and La Cage aux Folles, all showcasing ingenuity, versatility and the need to be liberal when viewing fashion.

Jean Paul Gaultier, a designer long acquainted with blurring the distinction between homme and femme, surged deeper into this territory with his Paris 2010 collection. He sent pouty lipstick-stained male models down the runway in denim jackets cum tube tops, along with shaded glamazons strutting their boardroom shirts and long, high-slit skirts. The looks walked a thin line between bad 90s song, I’m Too Sexy For My Shirt, and an appealing, edgy look. One warning, the tube top wearer should consider waxing his chest and underarms before venturing forth in such a look.

Relative newcomer, Junn J, embraced a more modern and raw sensuality. He reinterpreted classic shirts with multi-layers, sleevlessness and sheer fabrications. It was as if he was exposing the softer, hidden side of the wearer, while simultaneously shielding him — albeit minimally.

Roberto Cavalli, a designer whose raison d’être seems to be rock ‘n’ roll, dabbled in a more masculine-infused ambiguity, with his men gliding down the runway in lasered peek-a-boo leather pants and slashed, almost backless, T-shirts.

Versace’s men were more subtle, letting the style of the pieces draw the conclusion of the underlying contradictions. There were long print tunics layered over tight black pants, topped off by crisp, wide-striped suit jackets and short shorts worn by bronzed adonises.

Galliano’s androgynous lotharios offered more of the same. Bronzed to St Tropez perfection? Check. Kohl-rimmed eyes? Check. Newsprint logo clothing? Check. Scantily clothed? Check and check. Standouts from the shows were: beautiful sheer overlay suit jackets, a new twist on skirts for men with long front-slit versions, and kilts worn as everyday garments — a 20 year staple for Jean Paul Gaultier and a newly adopted look for Marc Jacobs.

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