It All Started with Coco Chanel

Androgyny is reaching a new level of popularity.

Posted Aug 31, 2018

It all started with Coco Chanel. The French fashion designer began to make clothing about a hundred years ago, with the first women’s pantsuit part of her more gender neutral aesthetic. Many women were ecstatic to be liberated from the layers of Victorian attire, a fashion counterpart to the suffragette movement that was bubbling up at the same time. A half-century after this early example of gender blurring, unisex clothing became briefly fashionable, part of the turn-everything-upside-down ambitions of the counterculture. That laid the seeds for the androgynous style of the 1970s most conspicuously presented by “drag rock” artists like David Bowie and Queen.

Now, almost another half-century after the world was introduced to the likes of Ziggy Stardust, androgyny is reaching a new level of popularity. “The idea that gender is a social construct is being explored in the fashion world this season,” reported Molly Hannelly of moodfabrics.com in 2017, noting that, “designers are finding ways to push gender identity in new and exciting ways.” Collections by a handful of the best-known designers included dresses worn by male models, making critics wonder if we were entering a new era in not just unisex clothing but unisex in general. Some young men belonging to Generation Z, people born around the turn of the 21st century, have taken to wearing makeup, another sign of the breakdown in traditional gender norms. And some experts are making a case for “androgynous conscious” in the raising of children, thinking that prescribed gender roles are narrow and limiting. Girls should learn how to be assertive, linear, and authoritative, psychologist Shefali Tsabary argues, while boys should know how to be vulnerable and get in touch with their feelings.

One might dismiss the prospect of a generation of sensitive young men in skirts and makeup as silly, but there is much more going on. As Hannelly suggested, the idea that gender is a social (versus purely biological) construct is gaining traction, in part a byproduct of the women’s and gay rights movements as well as greater tolerance for “diversity” in general. As America and the world have become more multicultural over the past half-century or so, there has been a greater recognition that the buckets into which we sort people–gender, age, race, ethnicity, nationality, ability, sexual preference, etc.–are more socially created divisions than anything else. One is who one is regardless of the age, color, or physical characteristics of our bodies, this idea goes, an interesting notion that is bound to become more accepted as machines begin to alter the definition of what makes someone human.

In “Gender Issues:  Futures and Implications for Global Humanity,” Ivana Milojevic captured the essence of why our future is likely to be a more androgynous one. We act as men or women because that is what society dictates we do, she explains, this a lot different than actually being men or women. “Humans engage in the cultural behaviours of practicing femininity and masculinity,” Milojevic wrote, and “gender categories are much more fluid than simply those of women/men.” It clearly appears that gender is a continuum versus being absolute, with most people possessing a blend of what we consider to feminine and masculine traits. As gender becomes increasingly destabilized by science, technology, and further feminization, there will be greater acceptance to explore one’s personal set of “male” and “female” characteristics or androgynous profile. For Milojevic, this will be a very good thing, resulting in “more democratic and fairer societies with flattened hierarchies.”