Androgyny in Fashion: Progressive or Presenting Old Problems in a New Way?

As presented in a previous post by Lucas, androgyny in the fashion world has become a popular topic of conversation. When discussing the different forms of drag and how the act of drag functions in queer and seemingly “gender normative” societies, I immediate thought of an article I read a few months ago on the use of “gender-bending” fashion.

(Image taken from Grrrl Beat)

Last July, the fairly new online magazine Grrrl Beatpublished the article “Dude Looks Like a Lady: Why Androgyny in Fashion is a Good Thing.”  In this reflection, the author mentions that the recent surge in androgynous modeling that has surfaced before in more subtle ways.

“Flappers from the 20s pushed the limits by cutting their hair short, reducing hemlines, ditching the corset, and openly discussing sexuality. A thin, boyish physique was also associated with the flapper image. Androgyny cropped up again during the 70s when David Bowie released Ziggy Stardust and wore makeup and bodysuits for concerts. 80s metal bands such as Motley Crue and Cinderella also touted an androgynous image with their teased hair, eyeliner, and platform boots.”

Unable to point to a reason for this current exploration of gender stereotypes and fashion, the author suggests that changing frames of mind and challenging the status quo could be the cause.  However, it is then boiled down to the notion that “fashion is fashion.” Whether it has something to do with progressing standards of the fashion world or a shift in the general public’s view of gender, the author wraps her article by stating that, regardless, this resurgence will help to bring issues of gender normatively and performance to a more mainstream audience, in hopes that more people will be forced to confront how important sex is to gender, and whether gender is relevant at all.

On the whole, I agree with the author quite a bit.  I think androgyny in the fashion world has helped to bring about much discussion about gender.  Getting people talking to talk about gender performance rather than creating assumptions about the topic is a step in the right direction.  Nevertheless, and I feel Judith Bulter as well as bell hooks would agree, I think it is also necessary to recognize the connections between these androgynous models and white patriarchal ideals of beauty.  For example, the four models shown below:

Left to right: Freja Beha Erichsen, Eliza Cummings, Agyness Deyn, Stella Tennant. (Image taken from Grrrl Beat)

These “gender-bending” models, with their slender facial structures, silky hair, pouting lips, and thin noses, are all white males that portray the common view of what is considered to be “high class” or “couture” standards for fashion.  Even though each may be challenging the social ideals of gender representation, they are not pushing the limits when it comes to representations of beauty within these gender categories.

-Elizabeth Nash

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