Recently, a questioning of gender has begun to filter into the social consciousness, with the discussion of transgender identity entering the celebrity arena, leading to the widespread circulation of gender roles as a socially constructed phenomenon.
The fashion industry appears to have always had a slightly complex relationship with feminism and the application of gender- many significant fashion houses make clothes designed for women, by men. Coco (Gabrielle) Chanel was portrayed in the film ‘Coco before Chanel’ as being a primary mover in altering the perception of women dressing like ‘women’, questioning what that means by refusing to participate, refusing to construct her identity from what others thought she should be. Whether this element is fictitious or not, it draws attention to something worth discussing in relation to the fashion industry- gender roles, feminism and identity. As Chanel once said, “fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening” and so it is not surprising that a social movement has begun to filter into the fashion of the moment.
How you may develop a relationship with fashion is essentially a way in which to construct your personal identity, as style is essentially, an act of personal expression. What you wear helps to tell strangers who you think you are, and who you want to be, without having to actually say anything. There has recently been a rise in genderless dressing, with the minimal trend encouraging and championing androgynous shapes, seen in brands such as House Of Sunny. This in turn helps to perpetuate the idea of gender as a social construction, and by wearing and supporting such designers, is arguably to agree with and continue the rise of doctrines that refuse to continue along a popular idea of how females and males ‘should’ dress.
There have been many shows to this effect, shown in Kanye West’s collaboration with Adidas, that features the same pieces on both male and female models, and the likes of Rick Owens A/W 2015 show, that questioned the acceptability of nudity being gender dependent and presented androgynous silhouettes.
In a more obvious sense, this comes to light with the inclusion of Jaden Smith in Louis Vuitton’s spring/summer 16 campaign, who self identifies as gender fluid, and is considered by many a champion of gender fluid identity.
He has appeared before wearing skirts and what is considered typically female clothing, subverting commonly held ideas about who clothes are made for. Many have felt it appropriate to deem the campaign as simply a feeble attempt at getting noticed and get attention, however, it indicates that gender fluidity and the breaking down of gender norms is beginning to be absorbed into and recognised by, larger fashion houses. As noted by Nicolas Ghesquière, they included Jaden as he “represents a generation that has assimilated the codes of true freedom, one that is free of manifestos and questions about gender”. The easy way in which Jaden wears skirts, makes his decision to wear whatever he feels like, including dresses, and typically female clothes, feel like the new normal. It highlights the normality in wearing whatever you want to, and how ignoring the pressures that others put onto you can make you more yourself. For these reasons, we applaud Louis Vuitton for recognising the changing social attitudes and including a model that has a character beyond what he is wearing.
Whether this development in fashion is a trend, or an envelopment of social change remains to be seen- but let’s hope that it is an indication of a fashion industry becoming more open and inclusive.
Written By Annabel Waterhouse-Biggins