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Understanding Fashion’s Gender Revolution

Illustration – Maison Margiela SS16

Let’s rewind 2015 in fashion by understanding the terms sex and gender. Although the two terms are often used interchangeably, they stand for different definitions. Sex is used to denote biological traits – male/female/transsexual. Whereas, gender is a social & cultural construct used for illustrate the roles, appearance, and behaviour stemming from an individual’s sex – masculine/feminine. Gender constructs dictate what’s manly and what’s not. Like most social norms, gender is a fluid concept with norms constantly changing over time. Pink for example, was a strong and manly colour till 1920s in England and America before it acquired the feminine tag during World War II. Gender norms vary within cultures and societies too. Kilts and sarongs are often considered as feminine clothing in most Western societies while a kilt-like garment known as Lungi is widely favoured over trousers as the omnipresent costume of several South Indian men even in 21st century. A popular notion from Western society suggests that men are from Mars while women are from Venus, thereby clearly differentiating the roles and traits of man and woman. Whereas, ancient Hindu texts in India claim that every individual is born with both masculine and feminine elements. Hindu god Ardhanarishvara, literally translating to “The Lord whose half is a woman”, depicts an individual’s totality by merging duality. The androgynous avatar of Lord Shiva denotes the philosophy that we are dual in nature.

Bronze figurine of Lord Ardhanarishvara

Lord Ardhanarishvara is probably one of the oldest known documented examples that draw parallel with fashion industry’s modern androgynous vision. Fashion’s gender revolution in 2015 is aimed at blurring gender specific cultural manifestation. The revival libertarian 70s era in fashion supervised the ‘new sexual revolution’ resulting in various socio-political statements dismantling gender specific generalizations on power, roles, modesty, sensuality, nudity and other characteristics of men and women. We live in a world where men and women are living parallel lives and fashion acted timely by identifying the need for clothing that performs similar functions.

Fashion’s gender revolution isn’t aimed at making men feminine or women masculine. It instead rejects what’s perceived as masculine or feminine. It shuns & dismantles the ideas that tag a certain appearance or behaviour as masculine or feminine. Gender theorist Judith Butler states that seemingly stable gender expressions are actually the result of constant negotiations between an individual’s sense of self and the feedback acquired through social interactions that are constantly subject to change. Gender specific norms are very powerful ideas that are built over centuries. Gender specific attire often subconsciously enhances expectations of certain gender-specific behaviours. Even the most liberal parents can be subconsciously threatened when their boy child plays with a barbie doll. We are fed with ethics and morals that teach us to pursue socially acceptable gender-specific activities. If not for the social expectations and pressure, a boy child’s inclination towards pink is otherwise just as normal as a girl child’s interest in athletic activities. Androgynous clothing expression in fashion is just a reflection of the onging social revolution that frees an individuals from these gender rules. The gender revolution widens up to celebrating personal choices & freedom devoid of gender specific judgements. Fashion’s androgynous vision shuns gender specific norms while still being inclusive to every sex – male, female, transsexual and other self-identified classifications.

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