Is Fashion Feminizing Men?

“Menswear is getting more feminine,” The Wall Street Journal announced last week.

“Vivid colors like turquoise, floral prints, and pattern mixing are the latest trends—for guys. So are lapel flowers, scarves, and bracelets.” And, while we haven’t noticed anyone so far on the streets, the journal insists that young men are also out there strutting their stuff en masse with “soft-sided bags that share attributes with purses.” Hmm…

The tone of the article is that this is something new, something hot; and men not wanting lavender chinos, pink bow ties, and lavender and aqua shirts, are dinosaurs stuck in their khaki ways.

But the invocation of the word “androgynous” reminds us that this is an old idea. We’ve seen it before, only better.

fashion-feminizingAndrogyny, for men and women, was all the rage during the early ’80s. Remember the New Romantic movement, with boys wearing make-up and blouses? Goth, with its male adherents caked in deathly cosmetics and draped in faux Victorian clothing? We could go back further to the Teddy Boys, the Dandies, and so on.

But, the difference is that the Dandies, Teddies (an English version of the Rockabilly, noted for their violence, incidentally), Goths, and New Romantics emerged as a voice of dissent. They were against a society, as they saw it, that had lost all sense of daring, because it had lost a sense of Beauty — the beauty of women, of men, and — in relation to Goth especially — of death, even.

Poet and Dandy Oscar Wilde and, later, Quentin Crisp, were men who took risk and who flouted convention. It took guts for Crisp to walk outside with pink hair, to be verbally abused and sometimes physically attacked for his appearance. And, contrary to what we might think about Wilde, he was as happy getting drunk with American miners as he was playing around in upper-class circles in London.

Fashion has moved on. It’s long been no taboo at all for businessmen to wear pink shirts or ties. With some exceptions, men have long adopted some feminine element of style, but precisely to emphasize their masculinity — think of the earring, large medallions worn in Hip Hop culture, or beads. And that was an element of all of the movements mentioned above. Think of the make-up wearing Duran Duran with their model girlfriends and record covers with scantily clad women all over them.

Men may well have become more feminine in the West over the last 50 years (think of the Hipster movement), but the adoption of feminine clothing and accessories has more to do with following fashion than a revolution in the inner being of men.

Most of these fashionistas will follow fashion right out of the feminine when designers move on to some new gimmick… probably sooner rather than later. In the meantime, unless lilac and turquoise really is your thing, you might want to think about how you can express their authentic self through their style, and not worry too much about the excesses of the catwalk or fashion journalism..