From Coco Chanel’s parade of pants tailored for women to the sharp, rebellious, boyish cuts of the roaring 1920s, fashion is classically a unique gender-bending stage for social change and criticism.
With our bodies serving as its most intimate of canvases, fashion is a unique expression of self, where societal norms, comfort and personal taste battle in an arena of fabric and style. Now, this arena is welcoming a new player: androgyny.
“Androgyne” is a combination of the Greek roots “andr-,” man, and “-gyne,” woman, and has been a popular term since Plato wrote in “The Symposium” about spherical humans, both male and female, attached at the back. In older astronomical texts, the descriptor “androgyn” was ascribed to planets that were both hot and cold. Androgyny embraces dichotomy and has become an useful tool for transcending rigid gender definitions.
According to freshman Nyx Edwards, a gender and women’s study’s major, androgyny is accessible to everybody.
“Androgyny basically involves being somewhere that’s not quite masculine and not quite feminine,” Edwards said. “Sometimes it’s a mixture of both traits, and sometimes it’s neither.
It generally refers to a person’s physical appearance. Anybody can be androgynous. It does not really depend on your gender identity.”
Perhaps a result of its adaptability, androgynous fashion is entering the realm of becoming haute couture and dotting sales racks. Designers who seek to unsettle the lines of modern masculine and feminine styles have begun to incorporate androgyny in their designs. As a result, the style is making a splash in the commercial world with well-tailored, nonbiased pieces for those looking to achieve the androgynous look.
“Clothing expresses how you want to be read,” said Juniper Lewis, the historian of UC Berkeley’s Queer Straight Alliance organization. “Describing clothing as feminine or masculine is not ascribing a gender — clothing doesn’t have a gender. It’s describing a look. You can be feminine one day and masculine the other day. Androgyny takes two extremes and sits right in the middle of it.”
Some artists, such as Gucci’s creative director Alessandro Michele, have appropriated colorful lace and the romantic flamboyance of women’s clothing into their designs for a modern man’s wardrobe. Others, such as designer Rad Hourani, have created unisex collections with the aid of masks to remove any differences in models’ faces. The clothing brand Wildfang defines itself as “modern-day, female Robin Hoods” and has reformulated its traditionally male-centric blazers and bow ties to the female form.
Yet androgyny in fashion has the potential to extend beyond cutting-edge fad. By expanding the concept of personal style and choice past strict gender categories, Edwards says, androgyny engenders a more relaxed understanding of the individual.
“Fashion designers, having accepted that people want to look want to look more androgynous, introduce more androgynous fashions and models that look androgynous,” Edwards said. “It helps to normalize androgyny so people don’t freak out when they see a person and are unable to tell if they are male or female. You’re showing people that you don’t have to be hyper-masculine or hyper-feminine — you could be in between.”
Although androgynous styles provide more options than traditional binary gender forms, exclusivity still pervades fashion. There remains an insistence on unrealistic ideals of beauty, rarely relatable to the average consumer. Lewis says androgyny is no exception.
“Most pictures (of) androgynous style involve white AFAB (assigned female at birth) people who are very thin and very fair-skinned,” Lewis said. “Curves aren’t often seen as androgynous, which is unfortunate. There are so many different body types, (yet) we expect every person to fit the same way. That’s not realistic. It’s interesting how (even androgynous fashion) can (be made) exclusive.”
Nonetheless, recent experimentation in androgyny has paved a path for a more flexible and accepting public. As spokespeople for transgender and androgynous individuals, models Andreja Petric and Rain Dove have sparked discourse in the fashion realm about the gender binary and bending traditional modalities of thought. There is more demand and, by extension, greater access to androgynous style. Now, well-tailored, unisex button-downs and universal, form-fitting trousers are only a Google search away.
“Androgyny is a really big step forward for feminism,” Edwards said. “It’s about people being able to express themselves in a way that feels comfortable regardless of what society tells them they should do. When a woman looks androgynous and she’s comfortable looking androgynous, that’s a way of her expressing herself contrary to patriarchy.”