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THIS IS NOT ANDROGYNY: GENDER-NEUTRAL FASHION

June 16, 2017

 

Clothing and fashion have always been an integral part of how I choose to express a part of myself. 
Much like a painting or a sculpture, there are key elements that we put together to make up a composition which is the outfit we choose to wear. These elements include: texture, lines, colour and contours and we position them in such a way that it conveys a certain mood or message.

 

Photographer: Ramese Mathews I Stylist: Vicky Salis 
Art director: Jan de Wet / Location: Harper's House

 

 

The word that’s been on everyone’s lips when it comes to fashion lately is androgyny. There are many words like this like genderless, a-gender, third gender and a whole lot more. Although I am all for the product which is the result of this ‘movement,’ I am not sure if it deserves the amount of attention it has been gaining the last couple of months. 
Blurring the lines of what is gender appropriate isn’t as recent as many designers and consumers make it out to be. If you think about social acceptability during the Baroque phase or the Victorian era, I certainly don’t understand the hype today. Clothing for men was a lot more feminine with extensive use of fabrics that is associated, today, with female clothing, like satin, lace and a whole lot of decorations like bows and frills. 

 

Photographer: Ramese Mathews I Stylist: Vicky Salis 
Art director: Jan de Wet / Location: Harper's House

 

During World War 2, the roles assigned to different genders almost completely vanished for the working class when both men and women were fighting and working equally hard. The absurdity of gender hierarchy had no place on the battlefield or in the factory because that luxury was replaced with the need to stay alive. This had a direct influence on the way that people dressed. People wore what was most practical to get the job done, or whatever was warmest to keep alive. The emergence of what was considered more masculine made an appearance in female clothing. 

 

It was during the late 1960's when performers like Mick Jagger started following in the footsteps of Elvis Presley when it came to unisex clothing on the stage. Actors and singers used the stage as a platform to experiment with wardrobes that would be frowned upon just 10 years earlier. Queen and Michael Jackson took it a notch further by introducing jumpsuits and tight leather pants and by the time we hit the 90’s there wasn’t a single thing that ABBA or Madonna hadn’t try.

 

Photos: Pinterest 

 

I must admit that while these performers took a brave stance to what could easily have been rejected by society, it really did remain, for most of them, a costume worn on the stage. When awards were received and public announcements made, the conventional gender-assigned clothing took preference. 

 

Today, I do believe, we wear a much more honest coat…so to speak. 


The past week, my flatmate Annina and I started making our own clothes. We often borrow from each other and the idea to design and make something which couldn’t be found in the shop and that was genderless became very appealing. Before I wrote this piece, I did quite a bit of research and planned to work with two different artists, who I believed expressed themselves a lot more androgynous than I ever did. At the time, I had no idea what androgynous expression meant for fashion until I discussed it with one of my friend who pointed out that I was, in fact, practicing this already, but not for entertainment purposes. At first, I didn’t really understand, but it was pointed out that some days I wear a buttoned up shirt and bow tie to work while other days my tunic and tight skinny jeans.

 

Photographer: Ramese Mathews I Stylist: Vicky Salis 
Art director: Jan de Wet / Location: Harper's House


Instead of doing a photo shoot with a male model in feminine Victorian clothes, we simply decided to do what we

do every day… get into each other’s clothes and swap what is traditionally assigned to a specific gender. In doing this we blurred the boundaries of cultural connotations and in a quirky way challenged the notions of masculinity and femininity. 

 

In scene one, taken at The Harper's House, by photographer Ramese Mathews, we were concerned with the interplay of gender assigned garment. We deliberately occupied ourselves with ideas of dressing male in a lacy jumpsuit and setting that off against something very masculine like the Doc Martens Boots.  The traditional female outfit was questioned by pairing a very square and masculine cut trouser with a softer female blazer and strong metal tie, usually associated with men’s suits. 

 

Photographer: Ramese Mathews I Stylist: Vicky Salis 
Art director: Jan de Wet I Location: Harper's House

 

The second scene blurs the boundaries of assignment of a particular item to a gender. The unisex quality is highlighted by both wearing fur coats.  The dialogue is created by dressing female in pink men’s chinos and a thick brown belt. This is contrasted by the bare male body that is much more accepted by society, paired with a very feminine piece, like the tutu.

 

Photographer: Ramese Mathews I Stylist: Vicky Salis 
Art director: Jan de Wet I Location: Harper's House

 

Finally, we both wore pieces that we wear every day and didn’t attempt to do a gender-swap or double identity. In this image, the idea of men being frowned upon for wearing dresses gets challenged when Annina and I designed a contemporary tunic. The softer and delicate fabric is used in conjunction with the stronger metallic tie. The dress that Annina wears is a design by Adriaan Kuiters and follows a much more masculine, rigid and linear pattern. The cocktail dress is paired with exactly the opposite of what one might imagine.

 

Photographer: Ramese Mathews I Stylist: Vicky Salis 
Art director: Jan de Wet I Location: Harper's House

 

I don’t believe that we should be blowing androgynous fashion out of proportion. It has been part of society since the beginning of time when Ancient Egyptians wore tunics and the Greeks, voluptuous robes. Yes, fashion, much like art is the physical manifestation of a society’s vision and progress, but it should also be allowed to be organic and adaptable. It really is a matter of perception, but shouldn’t we agree that in a time where we are challenging just about everything, we should forget about the norms that dictate what men and women ought to wear. I much rather like the idea that gender-related fashion can borrow elements from each other and share a neutral identity.

 

A personal note of thank to: The Harper's House, Annina de Swardt, Vicky Salis and Ramese Mathews.  
 

 

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