Androgyny in the fashion world

Links and influences

19 NOVEMBER 2013,
The famous actress and model Milla Jovovich, dressed like a man
The famous actress and model Milla Jovovich, dressed like a man

Androgyny is a term that originates from Greek word ανήρ, which means man, and γυνή, meaning woman. It is referred to combination of male and female characteristics. Androgynous is a person who does not fit in gender categories of masculinity and femininity, culturally defined and determined rules of how male and female should behave in the certain society and culture. Many androgynies identify being mentally in between man and woman, gender-neutral, non-gendered, ant-gendered, inter-gendered, gender-queer, multi-gendered, pan-gendered or simply gender fluid.

Considering this, it is impossible not to connect androgyny with diversity of sexual identities, although it is wrong to equate androgyny with homosexuality or bisexuality at first, because androgyny overcomes frames of sexual identities exclusively.

Androgyny entered the mainstream in 1972. when David Bowie launched the cult album ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and Spiders from Mars’. Bowie presented his alter ego- Ziggy Stardust, paleface alien with strong make-up and prominent cheekbones. Androgynous look remained popular through eighties, and in nineties when glam rock lost its popularity androgyny survived through other forms. During XX and beginning of XXI century, androgyny was mostly promoted by persons from fashion industry and pop culture:

  • 1930 Skirt-pants entered the fashion mainstream; Hollywood celebrities use their influence to promote androgynous style; Hollywood actress Marlene Dietrich shocked public opinion when she appeared in men’s suit with hat

  • 1950 Fascinating pianist called Liberace entertains people dressed as queen of France

  • 1960 Unisex way of dressing becomes mainstream in London

  • 1970 David Bowie entres the closet dressed as bisexual at his concert, and accepts the identity of Ziggy Stardust; Andy Warhol, who created an image of Ziggy Stardust, encourages the trend

  • 1990 Kathryn Dawn Land at the cover of Vanity fair dressed as a man and shaved by supermodel Cindy Crawford

  • 1997 Denis Rodman entres the public dressed in the wedding dress showing a slight tendency to bisexuality

  • 2010 Andrej Pejic, androgynous model, conquers fashion industry

In the broadest sense androgyny implies existence of masculine and feminine principles. Not just a persons, but nations and cultures can be defined as androgens, if they don’t have specifically expressed male or female characteristics but their combination. We can discuss phenomenon of androgyny in different areas of today’s world: business world, entertainment industry, arts, and in particular fashion industry.

When we speak about presence and influence of androgyny in today’s world it is important and interesting as well to focus on psychoanalytic theories referred to this topic. Carl Gustav Jung based his theories on the existence of masculine archetype principle in women called animus, and female principle in men called anima, to make communication between genders possible. Jung claims that both genders have male and female components and characteristics. In some parts he relates this for the fact that all of us have male and female genetic material. Masculinity is defined with adjectives such as strong, persuasive, logical, dominant, determined, and femininity with adjectives such as emotional, caring, soft, sympathetic. According to Jung very feminine woman has male soul, although not so refined. Her attitude to the outside world is warm, feminine, caring but her inner attitude is determined, aggressive, dominant and critical. Likewise, very strong and masculine man, who does not show emotions and does not attach emotionally has sentimental, vulnerable inner personality. Last couple of decades leads to the appearance of an androgynous style which individuals belong are not polarized to male and female characteristics, and we witness the departure from the classical concept of polarization in the macho types and passive females. Women think, behave and dress more like men, and men are more and more feminized. According to Jung this leads to displacement of the inner frame of anima and animus and restructures the concept of inter-gender communication and gender identity.

When we think about the connection between fashion industry and androgyny there are two things that get in to our mind. First is referred to a common fact that designers are supposed to have male strength and female sensibility, in order to make good, creative and innovative work, which results in a certain kind of inner androgyny. The other is about androgynous way of dressing that is a result of a certain social situation, especially influenced by gender equality movement starting in the 60s. Until that period fashion designers used to produce clothes that were in accordance with gender roles: women would wear skirts, and men suits. In the 60s situation changed, inspiring designers to adapt to the innovative fashion trends influenced by social and political mutations: model Twiggy, cuts her hair and popularizes boyish hairstyle; men belonging to hippie movement let their hair grow and dress more similar to women and rock stars wear tight pants and bright colors.. In 1977. Woody Allen films a movie ‘’Annie Hall’’ in which the main female character wears man’s shirt, tie, galligaskins. This movie took part in making new fashion style, called New Yorker style, which wasn’t seductive, but opened to new experiences setting unisex clothing as a mainstream. In the 80s wide shoulder straps give women a new strength, look was feminine, but with big male’s influence. Unisex trend was not popular during the 90s, but in the new millennium it became inevitable and very influential. Famous brands such as Burberry, Marni i Gucci underline that the greatest use of androgyny in fashion is seen through female suits what clearly highlights gender equality.

Fashion always played with androgyny, but lately it takes over very provocative steps. In spring/summer 2011 Balenciaga’s fashion show had androgynous models, and, since then, many others followed: Kate Moss kissing her colleague at the cover of magazine; Givenchy’s muse was transsexual model and Jean Paul Gaultier’s advert which shows Karolina Kurkova kissing a beautiful blonde, who is in fact famous androgynous model Andrej Pejic. Are those moments becoming part of the modern society or they are experiments that go far beyond everyday fashion dynamics? What we should expect from the next decade?

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