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From Coco Chanel to Harry Styles: Androgynous Fashion’s Deep History

by Veryan Zimber

Men’s fashion today has started embracing many traditional feminine elements of design, pulling from beautiful silhouettes and other design components such as colour, texture and patterns. 

Until recently, the idea of feminine influence and flare was linked to sexual orientation, that a cisgender man wouldn’t wear garments considered female as a preference. 

However, there has been a serge in male celebrities wearing gowns and pearls and off the back of this, fashion brands are making it more accessible for men to experiment with these styles.

For centuries fashion and style has been a form of expression, whether that be to conform or stand out and whichever it was, there was always a statement to be made. 

Androgynous style is something that has actually existed for decades but only recently has it gloriously and quite rightly claimed its place in the spotlight.

In the early nineteenth century when the divide between male and female fashion was prominent, how the material was used in the construction of the garment played a huge part in what was seen to

be masculine or feminine. 

Coco Chanel was one of the trailblazers in blurring this line from a female perspective, using tweed to create her iconic two piece women’s suit, when during this time you would have seen the material being used to make gentlemen’s shooting jackets. 

It really was a fashion breakthrough that released women from their pre-war norm of restricting corsets by designing more subtle and relaxed pieces.

Clothing itself has never had a gender, it’s society standards that have taught us that certain items are

meant for certain people and it had appeared still so apparent until recently, where we have seen men

adorn the opulence and elegance of feminine styles and it is more evident that with today’s generation, these pigeon-holed limits that have been established over decades are becoming no longer significant. 

Feminine clothing has always had a broader spectrum in terms of textures, styles and patterns, everything is more extravagant. It is decided that men will always want understated, muted and at times drab designs, when actually everyone has different tastes whether they’re male or female and so designers working in the greatest fashion playground they have the ability to create new and innovative styles that surpass what is considered the norm.

Throughout history many people have fought the gender ideals when it comes to fashion but looking at more modern times, one of the most iconic is Prince. 

As a music artist he was considered very masculine but his style had a very feminine flare to it. His eyeliner, ruffled shirts and feather boas were very much a part of his trademark and it was almost a separate entity to his music which coincided together perfectly but also could stand alone in terms of him being a music and fashion icon respectively. 

Prince always tried to reinvent his looks, making them more elaborate and at times, outrageous; it seemed as though he tried something new with every album release which makes for a fantastic back catalogue of looks.

Our more current femboy Harry Styles, has previously said that among others David Bowie, who is known for his eccentric style, is a huge influence for him and it now seems that Harry is inspiring a new generation with his velvet suits, coloured flares and ruffled shirts, to experiment with their style and continue this new direction in fem penetrated outfits.

In 2020, Harry was the Vogue cover star dressed in a frilly lace gown created by his friend and Gucci Creative Director, Alessandro Michele. It was a really important moment for gender-defying fashion which almost broke the internet, creating a divide with people asking whether he deserved to be the person who made these statements but in many ways he is the perfect choice to change this narrative.

As he’s said “There is so much masculinity in being vulnerable and allowing yourself to be feminine

and I’m very comfortable with that.” 

The fact that he truly believes in that is important, he’s not making a statement for the sake of it, he is laying a new path for people to find confidence in being vulnerable.

The man behind Harry’s clothing choices, is another Harry. As much as Styles is the one to set these trends you can guarantee that it was an idea that came from a stylist trying to push the envelope and break the boundaries of the current fashion filters and that stylist is Harry Lambert. 

He seems to enjoy causing a stir, styling something that will get people talking and putting one of the most famous pop stars in a dress or completing their outfit with a bamboo handled caramel leather Gucci “man bag” that will definitely do it. 

Through his joy of dressing his clients in wacky and fun outfits he has, whether it be consciously or unconsciously, reevaluated what it is to be masculine in the 21st century. He thought it would be “fun” to put Styles in a pearl necklace and through that choice, men everywhere started accessorising with pearls. The message that the two Harrys have always portrayed in any of the looks is to be joyous, positive and camp and this message has transcended into something greater than that. 

Allowing men to express their style in any way they want to and changing this stuffy view of how men should or shouldn’t dress. This movement is a huge part of making this world a more inclusive place, removing the question of orientation and allowing people to flourish in whichever way they choose.

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