Crossing Gender Boundaries

It was in the 1920s that modern clothing first crossed gender boundaries in a major way when trousers were introduced into women’s wear. Almost 100 years on it is deemed acceptable, by society, for women to wear traditionally masculine attire but it is still frowned upon for men to wear more feminine clothes.

In her 2001 song, “What it Feels Like for a Girl,” Madonna addressed this issue with the suggestion that it is degrading for boys to look like girls.

For years men have been trying to cross the gender boundaries of fashion, whether it is through clothing or make-up. We are still, however, in an age when a man cannot walk the streets in a skirt or make-up without drawing disapproving glances at one end of the spectrum to physical violence at the other end.

Even famous men have been ridiculed in the press for their courage from David Bowie in the 1970s, Boy George in the 1980s and even style icon David Beckham wearing his sarong as recently as 1998.

As we enter a new era in which the Millennials are becoming the new faces to follow with their less prejudiced ideals we can finally see the breaking down of some barriers without the behind the hand sniggers of the press. When Jaden Smith fronted Louis Vuitton’s women’s wear range this year he was widely praised rather than derided.

2016 has also seen an introduction of the ‘agender’ or ‘unisex’ clothing range from such retail giants as Selfridges and Zara, for example.  What is clear, however, is that they are mostly still biased towards masculine styles of clothing with jeans, t-shirts, shorts and sports-jackets being the main staples of such collections.

The same can be seen out and about with so many people of both genders donning the uniform of skinny jeans, boots, t-shirt and bomber jacket so beloved of high-profile names from Justin Bieber to Gigi Hadid. Whilst this is a step-forward in gender neutral styling it can still be argued that masculine style is predominant.

Some light can be seen at the end of the tunnel though for whilst we may be a long way off men’s skirts and dresses being acceptable on the high street there is a softening of what we can wear on our top halves. T-shirts have enjoyed longer hems throughout the summer and cardigans this winter are longer, button-free and flowing.

There is still some way to go before the final taboo of it being acceptable for men to dress in what may be seen as feminine styles is to be broken down but there is an increasing pace towards it.

Some recent runway shows have really pushed the boundaries of masculine ideals for menswear, which is a refreshing and daring step. One of the most exciting of these is Palomo Spain whose third collection debuted at “New York Fashion Week: Men’s” at the beginning of the month.  The clothes in this collection were decadent and beautiful.  As with his previous collections they tear down the taboo of femininity within menswear with outstanding design and style.

Another collection that bends the rules is the Balmain Men’s FW17 campaign that mixes the masculinity of military patterns with cuts that have a flair and style more closely associated with women’s wear.  Additionally their SS17 collection that teams bright colours and knitwear that have a more gentle feel than some traditional men’s wear staples.

As more designers break away from the stereotypes that have been created by the 20th century, men can begin to enjoy a larger variety of attire that can allow the expressing of more than just one aspect of our humanity.

Not only this but, in the 21st century gender is becoming more fluid so it is fitting that clothing meets the needs of all, not just the majority.  If gender neutral and gender biased clothing can break away from the dominating masculinity, a new age of fashion can open the door to acceptance for more individuality and the expressing of one’s true self.


  1. Jim!! I love this. I think you have chosen a relevant topic that is both interesting and important. Your style of writing fits perfectly with the topic and I think your passion for it is evident. This is an issue that shouldnt exist in a time of artistic freedom and personal expression. But unfortunately it sometimes does and I think your article tackles this well!:)

    Liked by 1 person

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