It’s hard to believe, but there was once a period when women weren’t allowed to wear trousers. Nowadays, when androgynous clothing is all the rage, that idea might seem completely out of the question. In the absence of context, you might assume that androgynous clothing is a recent development. Androgynous fashion, however, has its roots in the 17 century. That said, let’s us explore the evolution of androgynous styles in this androgynous fashion history.
Androgynous Fashion History- Overview
Before we we learn more about the evolution of androgynous styles, let’s first define androgynous.
The Latin word “androgyne” means “both men and women” and is the root of the term “androgynous,” which denotes people who exhibit traits of both sexes. Androgynes are people whose preferred gender expressblurslurs the lines between the traditional gender binaries (male and female).
Is Androgynous Style New?
Androgyny has always been a part of culture, as individuals have been dressing in non-traditional ways for centuries. Take, for example, the fashions of 17th-century Western Europe, where men wore tall wigs, petticoat breeches, and white stockings that were so baggy they resembled a skirt and a plethora of frills and lace. The Chevalier d’Éon was a French diplomat, soldier, spy, and freemason who lived in the 18th century and spent much of his life dressing in both sexes. George Sand, or Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin, caused quite a sensation in 19th-century Paris with her unconventional style, which combined male elements like coats and pants with more conventionally feminine ones, like her long hair.
Androgynous Fashion History
Let’s delve right into the androgynous fashion history.
Women Push the First Button in Androgyny
Cultural biases have constrained fashion choices to rigid gender norms throughout time. Some of the first examples of rebellious androgynous attire may be found in the United Kingdom and France. When women realized their clothes were holding them back professionally and socially, the androgynous trend took off. In the past, the aristocracy’s favorite method of gaining visual prestige was by the adoption of an androgynous style of attire. The uniforms that came with the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s laid the groundwork for men and women to start dressing similarly. British and American forces, which recruited women to serve as spies, mandated the donning of unique uniforms consisting of coats and dresses over pants, which hastened the shift even further.
The Impact of Elizabeth Smith Miller
Androgynous clothing grew more mainstream when female activists emerged and men’s clothing became widely available. Luisa Capetillo, the first woman in Puerto Rico to publicly wear a suit and tie, is the best example of a passionate advocate for women’s rights. After some time, females started to agree that men’s clothing was much more practical. Men’s pants were far more practical for exercise, lounging, and daily life than women’s dresses. One of the earliest designers to join the trend is Elizabeth Smith Miller, who created a new type of pant that became known as the “bloomer.”
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (Elizabeth Miller’s cousin), social activist, an American suffragist, abolitionist, and a key player in the early women’s rights movement, was the first person Elizabeth showed “this particular style.” Cady thought wearing pants was great since she could move around more freely. Like a hostage being released from his ball and chain, Cady Stanton once wrote that androgynous clothes made her ready for a brisk stroll through sleet, snow, and rain, to climb a mountain, to jump over a fence, to labor in the garden, and to move in any way she needed to.
Bloomer’s Pantaloon Style Gains More Popularity
Amelia Jenks Bloomer, a prominent feminist activist in the early twentieth century, is largely responsible for popularizing the ‘pantaloon’ style. By the late 1850s, Amelia had played a significant role in spreading the fashion trend known as “bloomers,” and the style was so given her name in her honor. Bloomer received hundreds of responses from ladies across the country once it was publicized that she was wearing the new garment. They had questions and needed pattern information for the dress. That women were so eager to be free of cumbersome skirts was a reflection of their readiness. Not long after that, the trend began to receive widespread attention in the media. It was dubbed “Pantaloons” or “Turkish pants” in the press because they were originally intended for males.
Androgynous Fashion History Before and During World War I
Traditional gender roles began to rapidly blur beginning in the 1900s, roughly around World War I, and this shift was reflected in clothing. The ‘flapper style’ was initially popularized by early pioneers in the fashion industry, including Coco Chanel and Paul Poiret. Pants and a hairdo known as the “chic bob” were the hallmarks of the flapper look. Many famous people started wearing flappers because of how chic they looked. In 1913, when Chanel began designing garments (during the height of the Suffrage movement), women were just getting used to the idea of abandoning traditional Victorian gender norms, such as wearing lace collars and full skirts. Chanel exemplified the emerging positions of women as leaders by giving them the freedom to wear pants and masculine cuts. As reported by TIME, Chanel denied identifying as a feminist but defended the concept that people should express themselves in accordance with their own internal experiences rather than with what they are told their gender entails. If giving up bulky dresses meant adopting fabrics and cuts more common among guys, then so be it.
When compared to the Victorian era’s full skirts and painfully cinched waists, women’s apparel of the 1920s was shockingly androgynous. Some young ladies, inspired by the new trend toward a boyish silhouette, even bandaged down their breasts to attain the desired flat chested appearance. This outfit was made possible in part by the highly sought-after Symmington Side Lacer corset. Women still combined bobbed hairstyles and other traditionally feminine features with masculine elements such as leather and wool.
Changing Gender Norms in the 1930s
Marlene Dietrich, a stunning German actress of the 1930s, was an early proponent of the flapper androgynous look. Pants and suits were staples in Dietrich’s wardrobe for red carpet appearances. Two famous actresses who were born after women won the right to vote were Katharine Hepburn and Marlene Dietrich. That indicates that a desire for radical autonomy and a desire to challenge traditional gender roles were both on their radar. The two stars stand out in Old Hollywood due to their androgynous tendencies and cavalier attitude towards the ideal of femininity. These ladies did not let gender norms dictate how they should act, as evidenced by Hepburn’s decision to stroll around the set in her silk underwear until her confiscated pants were returned to her and Dietrich’s decision to kiss a woman on TV while wearing a bow tie and top hat. And they showed it by dropping their pants.
Suburban motherhood and career housewives were hallmarks of the 1950s, but women of the 1960s tore through their moms’ wardrobes and radicalized their mothers’ gender standards. The unisex movement “was a baby-boomer correction to the rigorous gender stereotyping of the 1950s, itself a reaction to the puzzling new roles placed on men and women equally during World War II,” as reported by The Guardian, citing Dr. Jo Paoletti’s Sex And Unisex: Fashion, Feminism, And The Sexual Revolution. In 1966, Yves Saint Laurent introduced a groundbreaking new look that reflected the increasingly masculine and assertive stances women were taking. Women’s tuxedos made their debut during this time.
Androgyny had previously concentrated on women challenging gender norms; now it was men’s chance to do the same. Step into the Age of the Peacock: There was a London-based counterculture uprising that The Beatles, David Bowie, Marc Bolan, and Jimi Hendrix all helped to inspire. With homosexuality becoming decriminalized in Britain and the rejection of the conservatism and social conformity of the Wall Street fathers, the sexual revolution was gaining momentum. A lot of men were looking seriously for opportunities beyond their gender roles at the same time that women were set to experience a second wave of feminism. They experimented with long hair, eyeliner stolen from their mothers’ medicine cabinets, and tight, feminine shapes as an attempt to rebel against the conservative norms of their upbringing.
Hendrix with paisley jackets and velvet shorts, the patterns clashing down his blouse evoking a kind of psychedelic acid experience. Small hips swaying to the pace of the set as Mick Jagger performs in his poets’ blouses and hip-skimming pants. The New York Times was the first to use the term “unisex” to describe clothing that may be worn by either sexe. This was in 1968. Following this, all apparel that blurs or defies traditional gender roles—such as androgynous, gender-neutral, or gender-fluid—was categorized as unisex.
Elvis Presley is a key figure to include when discussing the impact of the music business on the rise of androgynous fashion. The “effeminate guy” label was often applied to Presley because of his attractive appearance and penchant for eye makeup. After the Rolling Stones concert in Hyde Park, London, in 1969, an increase in androgynous fashion patterns for men began. A “man’s dress” by British designer Mr. Fish (aka Michael Fish) was what Mick Jagger wore to the occasion. From that point on, stars and fans all around the globe started wearing clothes that were more traditionally associated with the opposite sex.
Not only did Jimi Hendrix gain notoriety as a musician in the 1970s, but he also became a fashion icon for his penchant for wearing ‘women’s’ shirts and high heels. David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust persona is another crucial figure to remember. With the release of his record titled “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and Spiders from Mars,” David unveiled his alter ego to the world. David explained that his assumed character reflected his sexual ambivalence when pressed for specifics. The 1970s saw the widespread adoption of an androgynous style, primarily due to the influence of popular culture and Hollywood celebrities.
We can’t help but think of Boy George, Prince, and even John Travolta when we hear the phrase “androgynous disco times,” a term coined to describe the counterculture era that included David Bowie. In terms of movies that have shaped androgynous style, ‘Space:1999’ is an obvious choice. The androgynous design thong and the monokini are sometimes credited to the future TV series Space:1999, which initially aired in the mid-1970s. The costume designer for the “Space:1999” film, Rudi Gernreich, deserves accolades. Rudi Gernreich’s Androgynous Fashion from the Space:1999 film series. Even by today’s standards of acceptance, Gernreich was decades ahead of his time. He foresaw the development of multifunctional accouterments like belts and wristwatches that serve as weather monitors, compasses, and radios.
Yamamoto, Kawakubo, Grace Jones, and Prince in the 1980s
Avant-garde designers like Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo emerged as dominant forces in 1980s fashion. Yamamoto argued in an interview that fashion should embrace ambiguous forms that combine masculine and feminine traits. As Yamamoto saw it, the freedom to express one’s true self through androgyny makes fashion the ideal vehicle for this. And then there was Grace Jones, who radiated a fiercely feminine energy that was just as evenly matched by a stoic, masculine edge. She was the picture of androgyny, with her shaved head and chiseled features complementing her athletic figure.
After the flamboyant, gender-bending ’70s, the ’80s reportedly felt like a “stylistic whiplash” of reverting to more overtly gendered apparel. As an androgynous person, Jones became a powerful icon for feminists. She had no reliance on anyone else but herself, which she openly acknowledged. Many women found Prince attractive because they could see parts of themselves in him, and he could do the same for them. His high heels, tiny mustache, and masculine figure in silk suits all spoke to the reality that sexuality, like gender, exists on a spectrum.
Questions regarding sexuality, gender roles, and fashion were welcome topics of conversation among members of Generation X in the 1990s. By donning plaids, boots, and short haircuts traditionally associated with men, these women were making a statement about the rigidity of society’s standards for female appearance. In Kurt Cobain’s music, many people found a safe space for their androgynous identities. Cobain enjoyed experimenting with babydoll clothes, eyeliner, and his long blonde hair. He wore tiaras, swept his filthy hair into pigtails, and rocked out in retro women’s eyewear more suited to a roller skate restaurant server than a rock legend. Borrowing clothing from one another’s closets allowed people of both sexes to display aspects of their identities that did not fit neatly into gender bins.
There was a shift toward androgynous silhouettes among up-and-coming designers like Pierre Cardin, Helmut Lang, Paco Rabanne, Andre Courreges, and Giorgio Armani. Male models looked incredibly dapper in the designs when they sported a full face of makeup and feminine touches like long, colored, or highlighted hair. To a similar extent, fashion magazines and catalogs started featuring male models who wore cosmetics and accessories. As a related phenomenon linked to the androgynous fashion trend, metrosexual men were said to emerge in the 2000s. Many famous musicians, like Marilyn Manson, Brett Anderson of the British band Suede, and Placebo, have experimented with gender-neutral attire and makeup. This list includes prominent figures from the entertainment industry who promoted an androgynous aesthetic in the 1990s and early 2000s.
Androgynous Fashion in 2010 and Beyond
Many famous people are also praised for their originality as the media promotes the “androgynous look.” Androgyny has become increasingly mainstream in today’s culture. More and more famous people are teaming up with androgynous designers and companies that make gender-neutral apparel. Some famous people on board with the cause are Lady Gaga, Lily-Rose Depp, and Jaden Smith. Lil B wore a pair of ornate earring chandeliers. A crew cut for models like Ruth Bell and tulle gowns for machismo rappers like Young Thug.
Creative director Alessandro Michele sent men down the runway at Gucci’s fall 2015 show wearing shrunken-sleeve pea coats reminiscent of Audrey Hepburn. At Saint Laurent, male models wore high heels and hot pink fur coats. For their 2016 women’s wear campaign, Louis Vuitton announced that Jaden Smith would be the face of the brand. The media has been prompted to debate gender fluidity in clothing regarding Lady Gaga, Ruby Rose, and Tom Hooper’s film The Danish Girl.
Androgynous clothing styles have recently grown popular in Asia. Men who dress and present themselves in an androgynous manner are now portrayed favorably in media from Japan, Korea, and China. For quite some time, anime manga, K-pop, and J-pop have featured depictions of the androgynous look. Designers of androgynous clothing, like Ty Ziskis, increasingly look to these social movements for their inspiration.
The Bottom Line
Androgynous fashion history shows that this style is not new and will continue evolving. This trend may be traced back to the 17th and 18th centuries. Nowadays, celebrities like Jaden Smith are still pushing this narrative and loudly calling for gender-neutral clothing to be worn by everyone regardless of their identity. That said, a new generation of fashion designers in the early 21st century is working to establish androgynous styles as mainstream.