Gender has been the hot topic in fashion for decades, and this month’s menswear shows were no exception. But shouldn’t we be paying more attention to the idea that seems to be underpinning all this sex-talk? Is fashion finally shifting its sights away from gender, toward a more mature understanding of sexuality and style?
“It’s not gender for me, it's just clothing," commented J.W. Anderson at his LC:M show last week. "I feel that in a modern culture, if it’s about gender then it’s a very dated concept. I wanted to achieve something awkward, less comfortable.” J.W. Anderson is the last designer you’d expect to be bored of the G-Debate, having risen to prominence as a repeat gender-blur offender. SS14 saw him use halternecks and deconstructed tailoring to shift focus onto shoulders and stomachs – notorious erogenous zones for women.
This season, however, J.W. Anderson’s boys were feminine in a vulnerable way: call centre power dressing for the secretary yearning for freedom outside the 9-5. The high necks, skin-tight blouses, and those platforms: so feminine. Add to that the floor-length skirts and coats at Craig Green, the skinhead girls at Matthew Miller and the one-shoulder lycra tops at Astrid Anderson.
All of that feels feminine, so how is it not about gender? Instead, we should be thinking about the anti-man and the anti-woman. It’s easy to label clothing “masculine” and “feminine” but that’s to miss the point: lets focus on the clothes – minus the sex organs.
a different kind of expression – one tied to the liberation of sexuality, placed firmly above the gender issue
In Milan we hit the opposite end of the spectrum. Donatella Versace churned out a collection that was all shades of camp, gay and totally fabulous – but in no way feminine. This was a different kind of expression – one tied to the liberation of sexuality, placed firmly above the gender issue. Boys were nearly bare-assed in leather chaps worn with studded codpieces while handkerchiefs hung suggestively out of back pockets.
It was an open embrace of gay history and culture, drawing our attention to the importance of sexuality for every human out there. "It was an expression of freedom. I think it's really important today with what's going on in the world with civil rights and love,” proclaimed Donatella at the show. Yet again this idea of freedom from gender, our attention nudging another step towards sexuality.
That was the thread the Milan conversation took, discussing a more complex type of sexuality. Prada’s boys were multifaceted in their leanings, odd combinations of side-striped tracksuit pants, pimp fur coats and squared off ties suggesting numerous layers to their sexual orientation. Miuccia seemed to be suggesting a different way of approaching fashion too, a more asexual approach, that favours style over sex.
Even today in Paris, everyone’s favourite Antwerp avant-garde, Walter Van Beirendonck showed a collection of cult crocodile soldiers in typically vibrant, sartorially provocative garb. Despite the lycra, legwarmers and generous dose of pink, there was nothing to pin point this as androgynous, gender blurring, or camp (like Van Beirendonck’s phallus adorned slippers of SS14). Was it masculine, was it feminine...does it matter? Gender has once again been dismissed –maybe it’s time we caught on.