Representing and Defying Masculinity
An enduring element of fashion as we understand it to be today is its ability to challenge our preconceived expectations of gender norms, femininity, and masculinity. In recent years, as gender expression has been at the forefront of the fashion industry, men’s fashion, in particular, has been exploring the limits and expanse of how we understand masculinity and how we fashion the male body. Influencers on social media, celebrities like Harry Styles and Billy Porter, and fashion designers like Jean Paul Gaultier and Alesandro Michele are defying traditional masculine tropes in their expression.
In Western culture, the definition of "masculinity" is often disassociated with softness or diversity. It has been perceived to be aligned with power, gender class, and lack of diversity in style. When reviewing masculinity in the 19th and 20th centuries, the accent of these attributes can be seen through modern historical accounts and events that shaped fashion. The male persona during these times was fashioned with styles in association with their trade or skill, military duties, and ranks. Clothing had an important role in social class distinction, and how you presented yourself in front of your social circles and class. There was little in color, flare, or diversity in tailoring. Society saw fit at the time in driving to identity and social class.
Today, with our understanding of gender, gender identity, and gender expression becoming broader due to increased visibility of gender non-conforming, trans, and non-binary people, we are reevaluating what, if anything, is inherently “masculine” and reimagining how masculinity can present. Fashion designers are putting collections on runways and male celebrities are donning ensembles on the met gala red carpet that signal we are turning a new leaf in our understanding of what traditional menswear can look like. These designs include more bright colors, flare, bows, gems, skirts, and tailoring that in the past were more closely associated with the feminine. These transgressions from typical masculine representation are shifting our understanding and imaginings of masculinity in general.
Gender norms are also being redefined by mainstream brands like Calvin Klein, Converse, and Asos, with designs and styles making up the Gender-neutral category which is here to stay. These designer lines are gender-fluid collections catering to a 1.4million individual people as an audience in the USA, leading the way around the world. A 2019 Pew research found that 1 in 5 knows someone that identifies with a gender-neutral pronoun with a growing trend with Gen Z.
Gucci, on the other hand, has taken the step of dissolving the definition of traditional menswear and womenswear including accessories for both - it is called "The MX Project". The MX Project defines femininity and masculinity when it comes to design and what is worn to be "relative concepts", born from society's norms and lack of "self-expression", which liberates individuality and thus reflects your personality.
Then there is Craig Green, a designer that has been pushing these boundaries since 2018, and has attracted the appeal from Women in his designs breaking conventions when it comes to menswear. Known as a "Marquee Menswear designer" his approach has been to provide "generous sizing, unstructured fits, judo drawstrings, and quilted cricketing panels". Craig Green was quoted saying "It’s always been an idea or a visual or a feeling, which I think helps it be a bit more gender-neutral." The appeal to Women buyers has brought authenticity to a designer that brought clothing designs for modern-day masculinity.
In an ideal world, where gender fluidity is embraced, we can strive for masculinity that recognizes and celebrates self-expression and freedom from rigid gender norms as identifying traits.
Additional background: Alessandro Michele endeavored through Gucci men's wear designs to make men's and women's design lines interchangeable, which was the debut of Gucci's genderless fashion. In late September 2021, a New Yorker article covered a British-American designer Harris Reed which will be part of this Spring 2022 Fashioning Masculinities which will explore the role of menswear in portraying power, artistry, and gender identity. With this, in contrast, it defines the fluid fashion meaning when it comes to design teams to bridge the power of artistry and diversity that feminity can bring to today's fashionwear.