By manipulating properties of body modifications and supplements, people communicate their personal characteristics, including the important distinctions of gender. Even when forms of dress and their properties are largely shared or similar for both sexes, gender distinctions can be clearly communicated by a minimum of manipulations of dress (Barnes, R and Joanne Eicher) – as Freud put it: “When you meet a human being, the first distinction you make is ‘male or female?’ and you are accustomed to make the distinction with unhesitating certainty.” (Chrisman-Campbell, Kimberly). What happens when something breaks these expectations that organize the social gender identity and make a strong frame of reference within which boys and girls socialize and adults are redefined? Our existence in a social setting and our collection of past experiences are the main building blocks we unconsciously use to construct our gender identity as man or a woman (Arvanitidou, Zoi and Gasouka, Maria). One aspect which is mutual to both fashion and society is the fact that masculinity and femininity should not be conceived as opposite ends of one spectrum, and it is always interesting to analyze society through fashion since that is a major tool to understand contemporary dichotomies – including the gender culture (Glogorovska, Kristina). Keeping in mind the importance of analyzing these concepts, it is important to take into consideration androgynous fashion, which has two definitions: “one claiming it to be something that features both masculine and feminine features and the other as being something that has neither masculine or feminine features, being in a way, non-gender referential” (Club, Attire) and how it addresses the politics behind gender expression and makes fashion not just a matter of style but also a political statement.
A good way to analyze this innovation in the fashion industry is through the 4 innovation fundamentals according to Marshall McLuhan (Honan, Daniel), the first one being: an innovation has to enhance something. According to David Edgerton, a global reference when it comes to innovation, one can measure an innovation's significance in terms of the overall economic impact caused by it (Edgerton, David). The fashion industry is head over heels for the now trendy androgynous movement, one could descrive this passion as the reason why some say we live in the “Age of Androgyny” (Glogorovska, Kristina). Important to keep in mind that the designers are not the only ones in love with androgynoius fashion – male consumers have been devouring these items – the 5.6% rise in the male market after Gucci and Dolce&Gabbana introduced less binary-looking items was the first increase in 3 ½ years. (Tiffany). This shows the economic impact of androgynous fashion, however, Edgerton also states that “the innovations seen as most significant are those of high cultural visibility” (Edgerton, David). Taking into consideration the huge economic impact and how androgynous has been reshaping society, it is needless to say that this innovation has clearly enhanced the market and fashion industry. This movement, however, is far from being something new, even though it is only now becoming popular. Androgynous fashion has been present for centuries and this highlights androgyny’s significance when it comes to the second fundamental innovation principle:
An innovation needs to destroy something old. There have been countless self-expression movements through history that used fashion as their pièce de résistance: “Macaroni (1760 - 1780), Baeu, (early 18th century), Dandies (early 19th century) and Mods (20th century)” (Arvanitidou, Zoi and Gasouka, Maria). These groups were mainly focused on bringing individuality and authenticity into play throughout their outfits (Arvanitidou, Zoi and Gasouka, Maria), but androgynous fashion is not just another one of them. What makes this movement so innovative then? The fact that androynous fashion is more than just a style but a political response. When analyzing historical paintings, it is easy to notice how the clothes that people are wearing are totally linked to their gender, since back then the way that people dressed was used as a way to differentiate roles in society, including gender roles (Bahl) and different cultures throughout history have featured androgynous fashion (women couldn’t perform in Shakespeare’s plays, for example, so the women were played by men — and there are numerous instances of androgynous fashion in Victorian England. The androgynous fashion, however, was born to destroy the old gender norms – one easy example being how Coco Channel wanted to bring trousers to the female wardrobe and that was seen as an issue back then, highlighting the contrasting treatment between genders (Arvanitidou, Zoi and Gasouka, Maria). Coco Chanel defended “the idea that a person should express themselves based on how they feel, and not how their gender supposedly tells them to feel. If that meant trading in heavy gowns in favor of men's fabrics and styles, then so be it” (Komar, Marlen). The androgynous movement was born as a response to an era of oppression. “In an era when gender norms—and many other norms—were being questioned and dismantled, unisex clothing was the uniform of choice for soldiers in the culture wars.” (Chrisman-Campbell, Kimberly). More avant-garde looks were later on introduced into the market by Jean Paul Gaultier, Giorgio Armani, John Galliano, Kenzo, Rei Kawakubo, and Yohji Yamamoto. These designers stretched and faded the existing boundaries of the old boring unisex fashion to sprikle their androgyny and cross-dressing fantasies (Glogorovska, Kristina). Even though the unisex style has been played on by the fashion industry for decades, it was in the 1960s when it became modern, under various influences of subcultures, especially music. An androgyny icon is David Bowie who had a very androgynous sense of style – needless to mention the “man dress” which he would constantly wear – and the singer was criticized for it but didn’t seem to care (Business of Fashion). Many artists used the more avant-garde social setting of the music industry to play with androgyny fashion: Prince, Grace Jones, Annie Lenox, many different artists would take the flexibility of androgyny fashion to express themselves through different personas. (Schmidt-Rees, Hannah). This flexibility and freedom is the answer to the next fundamental innovation principe:
An innovation returns to us something that we feel we’ve lost. The fashion phenomenon known as the “Great Male Abandonment” according to Flügel (1930) is described as the movement “in which men are no longer interested in ‘beautiful’ appearances and want it only to be useful” (Arvanitidou, Zoi and Gasouka, Maria). When we think about the context of that movement, and the beginning of the industrial revolution, it is easy to understand why the elite would no longer wear embellished silk suits, and fancy wigs, but would now prioritize a more flexible and resistant fabric that would give them more freedom to perform their tasks (Arvanitidou, Zoi and Gasouka, Maria). The set in stone masculine and feminine clothes, which determine your socially constructed gender, no longer gives people the ability to experiment with beauty, individuality, with being “extra”. Most inventions have taken place in the world of use (including many radical inventions) and furthermore has been under the direct control of users (Edgerton, David), and it hasn’t been any different with androgynous fashion. The movement gives people back the feeling of real gender expression and authenticity. Just like the dress was the signifier of social class, and, the more elaborate it was, the higher the social class; our clothes are the signifier of who we are, and, the more freedom one has to experiment with it, the more authentic one’s self expression is. The androgynous movement relates to a more complex understanding of gender fluidity, it is a political innovation as well – it has been used to claim political and social changes in oppresive countries – “Andreev is referring to using genderless clothing as a way to help diffuse the repression of LGBTQ+ expression in a heavily homophobic country like Russia” (Tiffany) – as well as to bring awareness to groups of people that are commonly left out of the spotlight. Transgender models and queer scenarios are often used when representing androgyny in cover pages of magazines such as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Vanity Fair, Glamour, and Elle. If it weren’t for androgynous fashion, these groups of people would have a hard time securing a spot in such prestigious mainstream fashion spots, especially since these less traditional representations were seen as “taboo”. This may sprout the idea that fashion is opening minds and teaching people to be more accepting of different gender expressions. (Glogorovska, Kristina). A society where people can express their authenticity regardless of gender norms. Androgynous fashion returns to people the feeling of personal freedom that was long lost in between the unwritten gender rules of the past.
The last principle of innovation, however, states that over time that innovation will become an anti-innovation, for “one can “innovate” without having to act upon any process or idea other than the act of innovating itself. One simply innovates in a circle, forever.” (Leary, John). When we think about androgynous fashion, it’s easy to understand how that might not be an innovation in the future: when we think about how androgynous fashion started, it was mostly mixing genders and picking male and female characteristics that you wanted to express, but still having clear signs of masculinity or femininity in your outfit. Nowadays people are seeking a more bland expression, a deconstructed look that is now remodeled in a more neutral approach to gender (Club, Attire). Androgynous fashion being an individualization tool, can quickly become a mass individualization technology. “Customization can be surprisingly homogenizing” (Wu, Tim). If in a society a large number of people take advantage of androgynous fashion’s freedom to express their authenticty, while individuals would still be authentic expressing who they really are through their clothes, the larger picture – a society of rebels – is nothing more than just a society of trend followers. That feeling of freedom that existed for being different and expressing yourself in creative ways would eventually perish, given the fact that all others around you are acting the same way. Androgyny would become “The New Normal”.
It is important to take into consideration, however, that even though androgynous fashion might become “The New Normal”, there are always groups of people who will be against any kind of innovation that pulls them away from their comfort zone – one of the main characteristics of androgynous fashio given that it revolutionizes not only the way that gender is perceived, but also the gender norms deeply rooted in our society. Edgerton claims that when a product is innovative it doesn't necessarily mean that the innovated version will completely replace the old version – even if they do accept the innovation some may still choose to use the older version. (Edgerton, David). Some people may mistakenly understand gender being the same as sex, and argue that biologically there are only 2 “genders” (even so that doesn’t make sense, when you take into consideration the sex chromosome anomalies such as Turner and Klinefelter syndromes), while others may argue that from an economic standpoint, it would make no sense to restructre the way that clothes are sold. Either way, these arguments are simply excuses to not adapt to a system where individuals would have more freedom to express themselves in more creative ways, and to keep using the way we dress as a social control mechanism – especially when it comes to gender norms. Nonetheless, that is no guarantee that androgynous fashion is any better than regular fashion – in fact, most people might identify themselves as simply “men” and “women” and that is completely okay. The most important characteristic of androgynous fashion is that it embraces every single type of expression and identity, creating a more diverse market, and briging fashion as a powerful tool to political and social causes – and that is the reason why even though a group of people might be against it, one can almost assure that androgynous fashion will keep developing itself.
So what will the future of this amazing innovation and its political, economical, and social impacts be? Hard to say. Fashion, because of the close association with the formation of the body, mediates the negotiation of different identities, sometimes with provocation. The inherent contradiction of fashion stems from the reflection on the representation of the body in the declaration of gender identity. Fashion may indicate social frivolity but it is sociologically important because it is a result of a lengthy process and has great influence in the collective determination of society, and, the way that we choose to express ourselves using our clothes may be entirely clear in one’s head, but not necessarily everyone will understand and perceive it in the same way, for the message written in our clothes in part of a nonverbal communication that accepts different interpretations(Arvanitidou, Zoi and Gasouka, Maria). Regardless of the interpretation one has, it is easy to say that there is an existing androgyny trend and that this movement is quickly taking over mainstream media, especially when it comes to the fashion world. One might see this as a result of a deconstructed mindset in the current society, yet some may argue that this popularization of minorities and their unique way of self-expression is nothing but another exploit from the fashion industry. (Glogorovska, Kristina). Even if still not gender equal, androgyny is an important part in questioning traditional gender norms, implied by the respondents as it is aspiring to break down binary gender roles and encouraging expressing individualism in clothing (Johansson, Karin).
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