I have an idea that unisex fashion is a sustainable solution for the future. Clothing that lets women look feminine and allows men to feel masculine. Pieces that fit many different body types and have several styling options. I figured that this would lead us to a “quality over quantity” mentality when shopping for clothes, which again would lead to a more sustainable production line.
Everyone who is involved in the fashion system in any way should be aware of how unsustainable and damaging the industry is today. I think it is the duty of all young designers to search for better ways to create fashion in the future. My main issue with the fashion industry now, is the speed. To me, it looks like a spiral that is spinning out of control.
Retailers like American Apparel and Urban Outfitters sells many pieces labeled as unisex, mostly t-shirts, sweatpants and hoodies stores sell. Almost all originate from sportswear or uniforms. They are neither feminine nor masculine.
There are some pieces of clothing that have become gender neutral over time, like t-shirts, jeans, turtlenecks and Trench coats. In every case it has been women adopting menswear. It might be called androgynous style, how I see it; it is still just women dressing in a masculine way.
UNISEX IN RECENT FASHION HISTORY ●
In the 1920s America the Flapper movement was spreading, these women where cutting their hair short as a signal that they where opposing to marriage. The rest of their clothing style was still very feminine, although much more provocative and showing much more skin than their married sisters. Flappers were the epitome of the liberated women.
In the 50s Levis jeans brought fashion a whole lot closer to androgynous style. A unisex garment like this hadn’t been worn in the western world for centuries. Prior to this, Coco Chanel had already incorporated menswear textiles into what would become classic women’s wear.
Also with beatniks, punks and hippies the clothing trends where pretty similar for men and women. With our modern, western eyes the hippie man of the 70s looks quite feminine, with his long hair and loosely draped harem pants. The punks on the other hand had something violently masculine over him, and her for that matter.
The tendencies are clear. A masculine woman is liberated. A feminine man is gay.
“Men dream of women. Women dream of themselves being dreamt of. Men look at women. Women watch themselves being looked at.” Ways of Seeing – John Berger – BBC documentary 1972.
I became curious about how straight men actually feel when they are wearing something that society might see as feminine. And how did it come to be that men in the Middle East for example, wear dresses and tunics without any scrutiny about sexual preference. When talking to people who work in clothing stores, it also became clear that it is only men who are afraid of wearing something not specially made for them. While women have no problem going shopping in the men’s department, men have a much harder time to accept that something can be unisex.
To be able to discuss masculine and feminine fashion, I had to find out what we actually see as ultimate macho and feminine in our modern society.
I started asking questions like why are pink a girl’s color and blue for boys? The answer here was kind of surprising, because this is a relatively new phenomenon. Before the war, children’s clothes were mostly white, for practical reasons. This allowed them to be bleached. After the wars, it became more normal to dye all kinds of clothes, both for children and adults. In a trade catalogue from 1918 blue was recommended for girls, with this reasoning; “it's a much more delicate and dainty tone." While pink was recommended for boys "because it's a stronger and more passionate color, and because it's actually derived from red.”
Pre 19th century pink hadn’t been associated with femininity at all, and both men and young boys would wear pink on the regular. In more recent history Disney and producers of toys have made it a rigid rule that pink is a girly shade.
In the 1937 thesis “Trousers and the most precious ornament”, Eric Gill writes that man have been castrated by trousers and the new industrialized society. He claims that the businessmen are becoming female because their main business is getting and spending, make food go around and jealousy of neighbors. The businessman hides behind police and soldiers and pays them to fight for him. Gills also claim that the only true maleness left is the artists; the man who designs what he makes, and makes what he designs. The craftsman.
Many of the claims Gill makes are highly sexist in my opinion, and it was painful for my feminine self to read this thesis. Although he did make some valid points that I see obvious proof of in society, like here.
‘Doubtless the proportion to one another of the numbers of men and women have a considerable, if unconsidered influence on clothes…Therefore women are cheap and must advertise.’ Since this was written between the two world wars, in Europe there where far more women than men, so women would have to work much harder to get a husband and reproduce.
In the end of Gills thesis he concludes that the fairest garment we can wear would be the robe, something resembling what is worn in the Middle East now or what they wore in ancient Greece.
Christian Dior’s ‘New Look’ in the 50s underscores Gills point exactly. After the war women would adapt to an extremely feminine style, bare shoulders, nipped waist and pink flowers. Because of the lack of men, women had to be the ultimate in femininity to have even half the chance of ever getting a husband.
In another much more recent article published by Vestoj, Shaun Cole argues that the ultimate proof of masculinity, is in fact the phallus. The codpiece that I talked about earlier in this text might be the piece of clothing that has put the penis most prominently on display throughout our costume history. In this article, “The Fig-Leaf Mentality”, Cole introduces us to ‘the penis pants’. Pants made by Eldridge Cleaver in the 70s, he was a former Black Panther activist. Cleaver agreed with the claim that was made by Eric Gill some 40 years earlier, men had in fact been castrated by clothing. Cleaver phrased it so, ‘I’m putting sex back where it is supposed to be’. These trousers never became a commercial success, more so they where ridiculed and even banned in some places. Such an overt display of sexuality was frowned upon in male fashion, and the public didn’t know how to respond to such a brazen display of male physical prowess. Coming back again to Eric Gills claim about how when women are in minority, they are cheap and must advertise, we have already seen a much more prominent and direct display of sexuality in women’s wear.
So how is this situation evolving now that the numbers of men and women are more or less equal in the western world? Will we then see women and men dressing more the same? Will men start to peacock like women have been doing for centuries? What is the male equivalent to the female cleavage or mini skirt?
When considering my own style of dressing, I wouldn’t say that it is either feminine or masculine. I wear mostly clothes made for women, but I also have some pieces that are either unisex or made for men. I was curious to see how my clothes would work for a guy.
So I invited 10 different guys from the Academy to choose outfits from my wardrobe. They all tried on 5 different outfits and answered some questions about how they felt dressing in women’s wear. Something surprising came out from the question forms. Asking which outfit they would rather wear as a girl, 6 out of 10 answered the same one they felt most masculine in.
I don’t really know how to interpret this result, but I’m thinking it could simply be that masculine style is more accessible, and therefore easier for the guys to imagine to be wearing themselves. Or when they imagine what they would dress like as a girl, they still wish to keep something they see as masculine.
Looking at the pictures from the research it’s evident that body language is one of the most important factors to judge if something is feminine or masculine. The guys who wore my dresses with pride and not allowing it to become a joke, looked like men. The guys who where clearly embarrassed and uncomfortable, where looking much more feminine.
There are some traits in personality that are deeply linked with what we see as masculine and feminine. Femininity is so often paired with modesty, sensitivity and submissiveness, while masculinity with aggression, competitiveness and strength.
The ‘hyperfeminine’ woman is there to boost the man’s ego; she should be small and graceful, passive, naïve and innocent. The ‘hypermasculine’ man is there to dominate women and compete with the other men. He is big, strong, ambitious and demanding.