A playground for identity freedom
Within the last decade, the fashion industry has seen a huge shift in the way men and women dress. Fashion is always evolving. New norms are established when a shift occurs in the world and usually, this encourages a change in traditional views. One of the new norms of the 21st century is the wider recognition of gender fluidity. Gender fluid fashion has become increasingly mainstream and widely accepted, especially where men choose to style using ‘women’s clothes’. As the industry progresses, trends and opinions on style change and recently, a door has opened for gender fluid fashion which is embracing inclusivity amongst individuals. Fashion is a playground which allows for true identity freedom and exploration of gender roles. As a result of this, issues of appearance have become less constraining for men, where the traditional depiction of a man is challenged.
‘Women were subjected to the male gaze for centuries, but now, it is being directed back at men’. The male gaze towards women isn’t new and has been a feminist argument for years, however, the gaze towards men is rarely discussed. This is targeted towards men who don’t fit the traditional image of a male. Their worth and identity can be knocked down by those conforming to the traditional masculine ideology, the same as women. There is a fresh emphasis on showing men that there are so many ways to ‘be a man’, with the idea that ‘boys will be boys’ needing to be abandoned. Recognising the differences in men, is a significant step in defeating gender inequalities which have been constructed. This construct can be broken and is starting to crack where the traditional role for the male race doesn’t work for many men, especially those of the younger generation.
Fashion and politics have been working together for years and support each other in times of change. The broad spectrum of manhood can be expressed through fashion, allowing diversity to flourish. Social media is a hub for fluid expression where typical societal representations of male beauty are questioned. 2020 brings a freedom for young people to be themselves through creativity, however, there is a still an underlying pressure on men to fit into their stereotype. Women’s fashion has seen a push in diversity with plus size ranges being just one example. The same cannot be said for menswear, where there continues to be unrealistic body portrayal and a lack of variety. Men don’t classically have the chance to experiment with style as menswear is filled with blues, greys and blacks usually in similar designs. This being said, some men have been reconstructing these male norms. Icons like David Bowie and Prince broke the male stereotype for decades and pushed for equality, not only within fashion but in the wider world.
Today, brands are open to change. The support of the LGBTQIA+ community is rising, where there is less of a significance on a man’s sexuality when recruiting for advertising. Although this a step forward in the fight for equality, it cannot be denied that many players in the fashion industry have been quick to capitalise on the growth of the ‘new man’. There is a fine line between raising awareness using your brand and becoming selfish, using issues as an advantage to financially benefit. Only 7% of men around the globe feel they can relate to images of masculinity in the media and 69% of men in UK feel misrepresented by brands, a statistic from the ‘Book of Man’. Our world has become more accepting; however, more can still be done. Brands need to genuinely care about the cause and not look to exploit for their own gain.
There are many cases where brands have included gender neutral designs into their collections, but it’s still uncommon to see a fashion label completely committed to gender fluidity. Jacqueline Loekito is a gender-neutral fashion designer and established her brand in 2018 with a focus on sharing clothing from one wardrobe. She fuses both womenswear and menswear to create collections that are expressive and inclusive. Her gender non-conforming collections exudes a striking statement of support for gender fluidity. ‘Larger than life’ is a phrase used to describe her work, as she designs against conventional tailoring and gendered proportions. Loekito cares about personality and how each person wears her designs with their own flare of ‘sassiness’, creating a wider perception of what people can wear. Since starting her career in fashion, she has always seen it ‘as having the freedom to dress’ and her opinion remains that ‘any gender should dress how they want without any rules or restrictions by society” as she stated at the Mode Suisse 16 Fashion Show. Her work highlights that gender fluid fashion can be accepted and is no different to gendered collections.
Being either male or female is a deep-rooted construct in Western society, but the rise of open, non-gender people has shown that our gender doesn’t have to be binary. This increase in gender fluidity isn’t forcing the abandonment of gendered collections, but it seeks to destroy constraints that keep those wanting to express themselves. We all are given a determined sex at birth based on physical and biological features, but our gender is based more on our internal feelings. Many believe that their gender doesn’t match up to their sex with 50% of millennials stating that gender belongs on a spectrum. The emergence of unisex clothing has stimulated an acceptance of cross dressing, the exploration of gender and the changing of roles to help individuals find their own identity. The new acceptance in gender-neutral fashion and individuals has built a platform to continue building from. Even the small changes being made have allowed so many to feel comfortable within themselves and with what they are wearing, expressing themselves without the need to hide. And who knows, maybe one day men’s and womenswear may become a concept of the past.