Feminine styles for men gain ground

Posted: January 11, 2011 in Trends
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Gender bender: Issue No. 2 of Industrie Magazine

A new sort of cosmopolitan pioneer has emerged in the 21st Century. He is prepared to go beyond traditional male preening and flirt openly with feminine styles and fashions. Good-bye, Metrosexuals. Hello, Merry Men.

The most daring young Dandys of our day wear platform shoes or high-heeled boots when they visit art galleries openings or sit in the front rows at fashion shows. They favour all kinds of perfumes and aren’t afraid to try any kind of cosmetics; they find Oscar Wilde inspiring, wear coats cut in womanly shapes and decorative necklaces. They laugh with good humour at anyone who is shocked, provoked or dismayed by their womanly attire. They want to provoke.

This new breed of Merry Men isn’t afraid to be mistaken for Gay. They delight in decorative styles and vamp-like fashions. The gender-bending Dandys of today hunt in vintage stores for a coat with a fluffy fur collar that might have been worn by their own grandmother. These boys borrow their girlfriend’s eyeliner (or purchase their own) to make themselves look mysterious and dangerous. These gents demand to be noticed. The cover photo of the latest edition of fashion culture magazine Industrie, for example, shows a gentleman in a long, feminine grey coat and rakish hat. Obesrve the dark eye make-up. Ironically, images of women wearing little or no clothing have become ordinary, almost mundane in the fashion world. But a bearded gent with wavy black hair showing a little leg on a magazine cover makes us look not once, but twice.

Daring to be different
Some young women, like 22-year-old stylist Elina Elenor Engholm of Stockholm, likes the new feminine look for guys. “I like it when people dare to be different and select fun details, like a necklace or Bohemian styles.” She notes that there is a parallel trend in the opposite direction for girls: ”At the same time you find a harder look for girls,” says Elina, who works as a stylist för Petrini Petrini.

In the world of pop and rock music, gender bending clothing and makeup is nothing new.
David Bowie, Jim Morrison, Mick Jagger, Michael Jackson, Alice Cooper and all the big-haired denizens of 1980s arena rock got there three decades ago. Art icon Marcel Duchamp showed himself in drag in a famous photo by Man Ray way back in 1921. Looking back much further, 17th century European noblemen rivaled the ladies of their time when it came to elaborately coifed hair, silk stockings and decorative shirts. So the phenomenon in itself isn’t totally new.

Shifting things around
What’s new is that traditional feminine styles for men are now going mass-market. You don’t have to be named Karl Lagerfeld (or in Sweden, Tomas DiLeva) to dare to be different. One sign of the times is the transvestite, transgender and cross-dressing clothing collection recently released by Acne, one of Europe’s hottest new brands.

In collaboration with Candy Magazine, the Stockholm-based fashion label presented a transsexual collection for men late last year which head designer Jonny Johansson termed a “celebration of diversity. It touches on ideas I have always played with when designing for Acne, the tension between male and female and what happens when you shift things around a bit.”

The Swedes are known as early adopters—pushing the envelope for everything from digital media (Skype is Swedish) to generous periods of paid parental leave. Progressive ideas about gender are programmed into Swedish peoples’ psyche practically from childbirth. Polarn o. Pyret, the country’s leading high-end fashion brand for children, for example, includes flower printed shirts for both boys and girls in their Spring 2011 collection.

It isn’t surprising that innovative ideas about gender have even infiltrated Stockholm nightclubs, where totally separate bathrooms for men and women seem to be going the way of the dinosaur. Sweden is more progressive than most places when it comes to exploring what roles we take because of our X and Y chromosomes, and which roles we assume because of the expectations of society.

Popular in a ponytail
This willingness to go a step beyond conventional gender roles in terms of personal style can be seen in this Scandinavian country’s public life. Sweden’s popular Minister of Finance Anders Borg, for example, sports a shiny gold earring and a modest pony tail. In the distinguished hallways of the Stockholm School of Economics—the institution which selects the annual winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics– you might run into Professor of Marketing and Consumer behavior Micael Dahlén. That high-profile academic, the author of several best-selling non-fiction books, is the long-haired chap in sneakers wearing the black fingernail polish.

One isn’t likely to see a beer-guzzling Nascar enthusiasts in Podunk, Kansas heading off to the racetrack on the weekend in the kind of extreme high-heels pop-singer Prince has been wearing for decades (the exception is cowboy boots, which are often rather elevated). Nevertheless, mens’ footwear—not to mention socks and underwear– have changed radically in sync with the slow drift to the conventional feminine.

A brave new world for feet
It wasn’t long ago when leather shoes for gentlemen came in only three colors: black, dark brown or dark blue. Golf shoes with tassles could be white, but golf is a wimpy sport when compared to the rugby or ice hockey real men play. Boat shoes could be blue, and rubber boots could be olive green. But that was it, apart from the tropically-colored thongs (referring to footwear, not sexy underwear) we wore poolside. Nowadays, our feet can meet the sidewalk in a riot of color, at least when it comes to casual-wear. Orange, turquoise, purple or green: it is a brave new world in terms of what we men put on our feet.

Farewell to Old Spice
Men not only look merrier today; they can also smell pleasant in different ways. Old Spice deodorant or cologne was good enough for our grandfathers, but professional men of our generation are more likely to plunk down serious cash for some tea, pepper and musk-scented Eau Parfume by Bulgari or juniper berry inspired Baudilaire by Byredo.
Swedish fragrance company Byredo, by the way, sells no male or female perfumes, but only neutrally packaged scents that target both men, women and anyone who falls outside those gender boxes.

Is bling masculine?
Even super-macho hip-hop dudes who tend to regard women as fashion accessories have shifted gears. Many in the male rap elite wear diamond or emerald earrings and heavy gold necklaces which only the ladies were wearing 15 or 20 years ago.

And the rap kings aren’t alone. Cautious and otherwise conservative gentlemen with Y chromosomes have unwittingly altered their personal style to get in sync with the spirit of the times. Perhaps we aren’t all ready to walk to the bank wearing hot-pink shorts, but the prospect of some flowery Happy Socks no longer scares us.
Photo: Alexander Farsworth

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  1. Applewine says:

    I think the way “femininity” is incorporated into to men’s clothing is all wrong in the high fashion community. You have to conceptually and painstakingly translate or borrow some of the essence of what we means by feminine now and apply it to men. You can’t just rip things from women and throw it on a man. If you do it right it will make a man look more like a man, rather than a woman, but some of the fashion may be different and look more like what we would expect from a woman traditionally.

    Simple example: if you wanted create more stylist pants or “leggings” for men or just pants that are basically more body hugging the logical place to start would be a masculine example that is also something we normally only associate with femininity. You would start with football pants as a model turn that into pants that can be worn out of another material. It would be strange, but it would be masculine and yet barrow from the feminine nature of showing the body hugging clothes.

    For tops you have to maintain the masculine v ratio and not bring the suit jacket in under the rib cage too high like some of the feminine homosexual style suits do for example. Rather what you could do is style is more to be decorative with different colors and lines etc, and increase the v shape which is not strong enough on most shirts and suits. Also keep the shirt short so it does not go far below the belt.

    There are all kinds of things you could do, that are masculine, yet barrow from what we consider feminine.

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