Katie Abson explores the rise of feminine clothing and accessories in men’s fashion.
The world is ever-changing. Gender norms and dwindiling. The rise of femininity in men’s fashion is exploding across our screens, accepted by many as an act and of empowerment. British-Somali author Diriye Osman said that donning a feminine look made him feel “sensual, beautiful, powerful,” and isn’t that what anyone longs feel? Over recent years, we’ve seen an influx of men adorning the ‘fem-boy’ look, incorporating pieces such as dangly earrings, nose rings, eyeliner, lace shirts, chains, and ruffles as staple pieces of their wardrobe.
Content makers on TikTok and Instagram are pushing the boundaries or what is percieved as predominantly masculine or feminine fashion. Men dressing in maid outfits, in particular, is spreading like wildfire across TikTok, with users such as @tristanpvaldez and @chxsley contributing to the #maidoutfit trend that has altogether received a whopping 340.4M views, with figures rising each day. It’s just one way in which men are experimenting with feminine and non gendered beauty and fashion. Similar videos receive millions of views per day, and whether viewevers like or dislike this content, the world is interested.
Curiosity sparks change. And isn’t that what we use fashion for in the first place; to challenge and express and inspire? Men are rebelling against gender-conforming behaviour for the world to see. And Generation Z is watching.
“It’s all been done before, “ you say? There’s no doubt that what goes around comes around in fashion; we’ve seen the rise ans fall of the flared trouser, ruffled shirt , and leather jacket, full circling from ‘70s culture to the current market. History is full of men who embraced clothing and accessories typically worn by the opposite sex. Influential cultural figures such as David Bowie, Boy George, and Steve Strange straddled this dichotomy for decades. They brought the Glam Rock and New Romantic movement to the forefront of culture, testing boundaries never before seen in mainstream media. But that isn’t to say these famous figures were the first. Men have been sporting flowing hemlines for aeons, from Greek togas to skirt worn as part of the Roman army uniform, worn to allow freedom of movement.
Another worthy mention is Freddie Mercury and his legendary impact on fashion. Queen’s captiving music populated the charts across the world in the ‘70s and ‘80s making them one of the most renowed rock bands of all time. Alongside their music, Freddie’s sequin jumpsuit and eye-catching patterned leggins paired with lavish neon jackets have influenced contemporary fashion for decades. His style was ever transforming, influenced by New York’s gay club scene, his surrounding, and former girlfriend Mary Austin. Freddie incorporated women’s clothing, accessories, and makeup as part of his stages costumes, contributing to his legacy of becoming one of the most memorable performes of the ‘80s. Freddie’s expressive clothing paved the way for many present-day artists to explore more flamboyant and outgoing styles on-stage as well as off-stage. This, in turn, continues to influence fans and followers who look up to celebrity style, revolutionising the way men dress in the modern day.
Feminine menswear is often associated with gay culture, but that isn’t to say it is limited to sexual orientation. Just like some women’s choice to wear trouser suits instead of skirts, some men ultimately feel more comfortable incorporating feminine items as part of their outfits. But despite history’s impact, when searching for feminine menswear to buy online, little materialises. Separate pieces, such as silk, lace, and floral-patterned shirts can be found on progressive websites such as ASOS. Retro and vintage pieces can also be found on Depop, with sellers specifically marketing their clothes towards buyers interested in androgynous attire. But unfortunately, it’s still a very limited market, despite evidence of there being thousands of men wishing to express these alternative fashion tastes online. Men often have to search through the women’s section to find what they’re looking for. I imagine this can feel extremely frustating, as well look for inspiration and guidance in fashion from our favourite stores. Currently, there is no such place for these men.
Unfortunaty, social and cultural opinions still seep into our everyday decisions: what we wear, how we act, what we say. Many still think it inappropriate to exhibit attributes associated with the opposite sex. It is still a societal belief that men who dress feminine are rejecting or going against what it typically means to be a man. This can often lead to men being subjected to ridicule, and in some cases, physical abuse.
As society continues to grow in acceptance, moving forward as we learn the importance of educating one another, it is clear that gender is more multi-faced than what was accepted many years ago. In recent years we have come to understand gender as a social construct; biology does not have to define our lifestyle. It comes down to what makes us happy, and what make us feel most like ourselves; something that id more difficult than we realise. Designers who challenge outdated societal opinions can inspire people to think differently. It is a relief to see more non-gendered specific clothing cropping up in the fashion industry.
A designer who challenges gendered-clothing boundaries is JW Anderson, demonstrated in his 2020 Spring Menswear Collection. A knitted dress embellished with tassels, paired with classic loafers is just one example of his gender-fluid clothing range. His clothing trascended social norms as he creates styles to be worn by anyone, regardless of their gender. JW Anderson’s design push barriers and provides a safe space for men to find inspiration and recognition of their preffered fashion tastes, created by a credited designer. However, his clothes retail for prices much higher than the average person can afford. Retailers should now focus on the transferability of these designs from the catwalk to the high-street, making them accessible and affordable for men across the globe.
But there is hope. Harry Styles, Billy Porter, and Ezra Miller are just few examples of cultural figures in mainstream media who can inspire brands to incorporate alternative pieces into their lines and diminish that all too wide gap in the market. We still have a long way in terms of acceptance and accessibility, but fashion continues to challenge and inspire curiosity by trascending social norms, and will continue to do as long as the world is willing to listen.
If you enjoyed this article you can follow more of Katie’s work on Twitter via @katiewriter.