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Embracing fluidity – androgynous style icons past and present

ByAnanya Ambekar

Nov 8, 2019

Androgynous fashion is no new trend; it has intrinsic roots in LGBTQ+ culture, spearheaded by figures who have stood out as iconic through the ages, for developing the genderless clothing movement and of course, being unashamedly self-expressive. Cultural contexts have varied exponentially between the lives of these style icons from past to present, but they all participated in deviation from a gender binary norm that still very much exists. These people, along with many others, have over time enabled the creativity and fluidity of fashion that we enjoy today.

One striking icon is Marlene Dietrich (1901-1992), a German-American actress and singer who, though would eventually forge a long successful career, is ultimately best-remembered for her iconic scene in 1930 film Morocco in which she enters an old-timey nightclub dressed in men’s white tie – the full works of black top-hat, tailcoat and trousers, and a white shirt and bow tie. The scene sparked outrage at the time, both for her androgynous dressing and her character flirting with and kissing a woman (shock horror!).

However; she has since been widely considered to look striking and beautiful in this once- controversial scene. Ironically enough, Vogue has quoted her as having said “I am sincere in my preference for my men’s clothes – I do not wear them to be sensational. I think I am much more alluring in these clothes.” Alluring, she was, but sensational too – Marlene Dietrich lived in an age where, unintentional as it may have been, through her bisexuality and continually bold fashion choices, she would become an androgynous icon.

Grace Jones (1952- present) is a Jamaican-American model, who rose to prominence in the 1970’s Paris fashion scene, a place where her striking image was much better received than America. With her dark skin-tone, flattop haircut, and razor-sharp cheekbones, all paired with a uniquely gender-fluid style, Jones landed the covers of Elle and Vogue and walked runway shows for the likes of Yves St. Laurent (who had not but a few years previously unveiled his revolutionary ‘Le Smoking’ suit – the first fashion house to introduce a tailored suit as women’s evening-wear). Jones started her style experimentation playing with makeup as a form of teenage rebellion and went on to find herself in weird and wonderful creations, pairing together fabrics, patterns and silhouettes in ways that were considered truly fantastical and almost bizarre. This playfulness and experimentation, along with her gigantic personality has always made her stand out. Her freeing mindset, and the stylistic androgynous self-expression that could accompany it, can be encompassed in a 1 984 interview she gave to Interview magazine: “I like dressing like a guy. I love it. The future is no sex. You can be a boy, a girl, whatever you want.”

Ranveer Singh (1985- present) is one of Bollywood’s most esteemed actors. With India Today naming him amongst the country’s 50 most influential people this year, and husband to India’s highest-paid actress, Deepika Padukone, with whom he has starred in three of director Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s iconic films, including monumental period drama, Padmaavat (2018).

In this movie Singh plays hyper-masculine tyrannical villain Alauddin Khijli who also happens to be bisexual. Singh portrays this as an inconsequential part of Khijli’s nuanced persona, a new precedent in mainstream Bollywood which has only too often caricaturised such issues in the past.

Ranveer Singh himself is extremely experimental with his fashion choices, having no qualms about wearing heels, skirts or kajal eyeliner, and his stylist Nitasha Gaurav, who is self-admittedly inspired by Prince and David Bowie, has said when styling him, she “doesn’t think of him as man or woman. Ranveer is open to anything and one gets to give creativity free reign with him.” It is still relatively rare for men in India to venture into androgynous dressing, but with such a leading figure in Indian pop-culture today making the bold statements he does, slowly but surely gender-fluid fashion is being incorporated into modern India.

A final example is Jaden Smith, (1998-present). This American rapper and actor has been in the limelight from young childhood, after appearing in films alongside his father Will Smith, and Jackie Chan and even rapping with Justin Bieber. One would think if anyone could be outlandish with their fashion choices it would be such a celebrity, but Smith has not simply turned to the expensive name-brands many an influencer is inclined to, but instead he has taken strides in bringing androgynous dressing to us – the youth of today.

The hypermasculinity of modern rap culture is nowhere to be found when it comes to Jaden Smith, who routinely wears dresses (even to his own prom!), skirts, and flowers in his hair. He even brought out his own gender-neutral clothing line MSFTSrep in 2016 for ‘the girl that wants to be a tomboy or the boy that wants to wear a skirt, and people try to condemn.’ Someone I find to be a personally- inspiring free spirit, Smith’s father said of him: “Jaden is 1 00 per cent fearless, he is completely willing to live and die by his own artistic decisions and he just doesn’t concern himself with what people think.”

So if you are now considering being more experimental with your own fashion choices, perhaps introduce some gender- neutral clothing pieces yourself. Try a classic power-suit, experiment with hairstyles and silohuettes, anything to embrace the same freedom that these influential style icons have encoruaged us to explore.

Some affordable brands to look into would be NotEqual, Cilium, Rad Hourani and 69 Worldwide – or just exploring a different gender section of your current favourite brands and explore the section of a shop that you would usually neglect.Stylistic creativity has no boundaries when it comes to fashion. These trends really are for anyone and everyone.

With the rise of gender neutral brands and influential androgynous figures, we have no reason to feel creatively restricted when we get dressed or do our makeup each morning. These icons have their status for a reason!

Image Credit: Creative Commons

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