Even if you consider yourself open-minded, some of the pieces from the Autumn/Winter mens' fashion week 2014 collections in London may give you pause.
While women are often seen in so-called "menswear"— trousers, tailored suits, neckties — men in so-called "womenswear" are very rare. And who to say what is only for women, anyway?
Writing for The New York Times, noted fashion critic Suzy Menkes declared that the J.W. Anderson show on Tuesday "rekindled he masculine-feminine debate in 21st-century fashion."
J.W. Anderson AW14
Anderson's collection wasn't the only one: Designs by Astrid Anderson and Lee Roach also pushed the boundaries of what we consider to be "menswear." Boundaries that are, of course, completely social constructs. Go back far enough in human history (prehistoric times?) and you'll find that one-shouldered dresses were a unisex phenomenon. High heels were first worn by men — persian warriors, cowboys, Louis XIV. Drapey desses were worn by men and boys in several different eras, from togas to tunics. And in some cultures and religions, robes and gowns are still acceptable menswear… think of caftans, djellabas, the Pope.
But still, some of the designs shown in London are jarring.
Astrid Andersen AW14
A "caveman costume" usually has one exposed shoulder, yet you might look at the Astrid Andersen design on the right and consider it to be feminine. A look for a woman. Is a shoulder gendered? Can't a bare shoulder be masculine?
Lee Roach AW14
An open-backed top is also traditionally associated with womenswear. Designer Lee Roach showed shirts that were draped around the neck like scarves. As Menkes writes, "The models with slicked-back hair wore tailoring or casual wear pared down to the bare essentials — with no collars, cuffs or, indeed, frills." And yet! Would many men you know feel comfortable wearing this? If you saw a man wearing this, would you automatically assume something about his sexuality?
The collections shown in London also brought kilt-ish skirts and lots of color. While a kilt may be associated with men, skirts are still usually lady-territory, and color? Think of the red carpet: The men are almost always in black, grey, brown or dark blue, leaving the cobalts, reds, yellows and pinks to the ladies. Women are allowed and encouraged to be decorative, adorned, flamboyant. Men are expected to stay "safe" and staid. The guys who do branch out — Justin Bieber in a red suit; Kanye in a leather skirt — are the exception, not the rule.
Here are some other designs from Tuesday's runway shows:
Xander Zhou AW14
Christopher Raeburn AW14
James Long AW14
Kay Kwok AW14
That last collection — from Kay Kwok — raises an interesting point. Our retro versions of the future usually involve unisex ensembles; jumpsuits, spacesuits and the like. But now that we're in the future, couldn't a voluminous skirt or long dress also be considered unisex? Why not?
Images via Getty.