The XX Factor

Nothing New About Gender-Bending Fashion

Defenders of high fashion’s promotion of impossible bodies and anorexic attitudes usually hide behind the argument that high fashion is “aspirational.” Because of this, it’s all the more comical how high fashion greedily co-opts street fashion, particularly from freewheeling rock and hip-hop subcultures. And that’s the underlying struggle in this story of how androgynous fashion is on the rise (again)-creative hipsters of every sort play around with putting men in women’s clothing, and high fashion co-opts it by proclaiming that it’s bold new direction in fashion.

The writer, Ruth La Ferla, erroneously claims that this trend is the first time since the ‘70s that fashion has taken such a decidedly gender-bending turn. She’s either forgetting or deliberately blocking out the early ‘90s, when exactly the dynamic she describes happened the first time. Everyone remembers the Seattle scene exploding into the mainstream on a sea of flannel shirts, but it was so much more than that. The decidedly feminist bent of the scene resulted in a wave of gender play in street fashion. Men picked up painting their fingernails, and let’s not forget how Kurt Cobain wore dresses in public , and skirts on men popped up on runways as a result. Better remembered is the playful way women’s grunge fashion dealt with gender. Let’s not forget the baby doll dress/combat boots combination.

It’s not surprising to see these trends creep back. It’s not just the gender-bending that I’m seeing in indie clubs, either. Flannel shirts are coming back in a big way, and so is wearing a thrift store cardigan over a tattered band shirt, though seeing that come back made me realize that I never actually gave that fashion up. It makes perfect sense; the trend-setting rock musicians who are leading the way were young and at the right age to absorb the awesomeness that was indie-punk fashion in the ‘90s. Of course they’re going to bring it back and amp up the gender play.

It’s depressing to see this pop up in the New York Times , and worse, to read that it’s showing up on the runways. The return of playful androgyny to street fashion has been going on for years now; I think I first started seeing men wearing women’s jeans and V-neck shirts in punk clubs four or five years ago. But once a trend has been chronicled in the New York Times , that usually indicates it’s on its way out. Putting men in high heels on the runway takes it to a ridiculous level that will hurry the trend to its grave.

Too bad. For the past few years, I’ve really enjoyed seeing men in skinny jeans and tight shirts, or wearing other feminine-looking fashions. When you put these clothes on a man, you really see how much women’s clothing is about accentuating sexual appeal, and if you like dudes like I do, then that means that the visual atmosphere at a rock show or some other too-hip event is significantly improved. When men start wearing baggy pants and shapeless shirts again, the women who like to look lose out. And I’ll be left with no one but the New York Times to blame.