Purple Magazine
— F/W 2016 issue 26

gender marketing

by ANGELO FLACCAVENTO

Abstract, outsize shapes that conceal the body, coming across as unisize, unipurpose, unisex. Pussy bows, lace, pastels, sheerness, decadent languor, and even the errant wrap dress, not seen on men since the good old days of the New York Dolls or Kurt Cobain. Shaved heads, oversize tailoring, pin-striped shirts, and a stress on blatant butchness that makes Annie Lennox in her Sweet Dreams persona look like an average working woman, rather than the gender-bending trailblazer she used to be. That’s the hip fashion picture right now, save one exception or two. The message? Traditional ways of representing masculinity and femininity through clothing have gone up in the air. We are living the age of pansexuality. Fashion follows suit, briskly.

Gender challenging fashions are a disruptive idea, for sure, but hardly anything new, judging by the offer. Gender-bending happened in the recent past: in the liberated ’70s, for instance, when Rudi Gernreich made a boldly political egalitarian statement with his unisex gear. Once in the fertile ground of club land, it fermented during the hedonistic ’80s, when men got heavily into make-up and frilly frivolities. Blurring gender norms is a seditious act in our bourgeois society: the proverbial middle finger shown to moralism and respectability in the name of self-invention. Just think of how scandalous were the oeuvre and lifestyle of Claude Cahun or Annemarie Schwarzenbach, or, on the pop culture side, how impactful were the ambiguities of David Bowie, Mick Jagger, and the whole crop of stiletto-wearing rock stars and flamboyant heroes who made it clear that looking both macho and femme is not a contradiction in terms. Prince, anyone? These views bloomed spontaneously out of the urge to affirm new visions, and made people think and react. Furiously, most of the time.

Today, the movement is wide and studied. That’s where the fashion component steps in: commercial calculation, which makes everything mild and acceptable. Rather than staying underground, in fact, genderless has gone mainstream in a nanosecond, diluted into a well-defined style. Corporations-wise, adopting it is a cashable plan to cater to the obsessively individualistic inclinations of the Z generation and its roundabouts.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s always great when the market acknowledges a change in society and turns it into products. But with that comes also a narrowing of possibilities and an abuse of potentially progressive concepts. In this sense, and with a few brilliant exceptions, today genderless looks bland and predictable: an appropriation of what was revolutionary back in the day. For a start, there is the heavily referential fashion imagery, carbon copies of ’90s spreads served as übernew, groundbreaking stuff. Then, there are the products, even more referential maybe, available in high-end shops as well as in the high street. Fashion is so much into genderlessness that there are dedicated sections in renowned trade fairs, too, and dedicated style gurus.

That’s the problem: viewed from this narrow angle, genderless is just a vacuum-packed, highly impactful look you can simply buy and share on Instagram, and feel cool. The political got lost because commerce requires a defined target, which is the exact opposite of fluidity. In place of it, here comes a contrived, codified, heavily marketed, and ultimately sanitized version of fey masculinity and butch femininity. That is what’s labeled as genderless right now. There’s no other option: alternative body types and anything that’s not extreme youth or extreme thinness is not taken into consideration. What passes for genderless is good old androgyny, all considering, made easy: a man can now buy a lace shirt in the men’s section of his favorite shop, and a woman can do the same for a suit that looks like she just borrowed it from her lover, brother, or father. Sadly, it is just as throwaway as anything else in the age of digital/visual accelerated consumption. It’s something marketed, not something that’s been created out of the urge to find new ways of being. It is a new norm, as oppressive, bland, and predictable as the old ones.

The commerce of genderless is a devilish marketing plan: a trend that’s in this season and will be out within the next two. On the positive side, the current wave cleared the ground from all the stereotyped Übermensch and ultra-vixen stuff of the recent past, suggesting milder, freer approaches to sexual expression through clothing. Macho and femme are momentarily out of the fashion sphere, thank goodness. But that’s not enough. Gender, after all, is essentially a cultural construct, and there are just as many sexualities as there are humans, and an equal amount of ways to express them via style. Because clothes, you know, are lifeless, even though they evoke a certain body, and with that they suggest a bodily depiction of sexuality. What makes them exclusive to one gender or another — bustiers for women, let’s say, and neckties for men — is largely the result of a cultural evolution, which could easily have taken other routes. There was a time when men were just as flamboyant as women and wore just as much powder and bows. The Restoration wrote a wholly different, somber, and castrating rule book. Fashion, now, is trying to break that norm, writing yet another constricting rule book for mere commercial purposes. Genderlessness, however, is intrinsically rule-resistant. It’s about being utterly nondescript, which comes from refusing homogenized thinking and homogenized consumption. As such, true genderless is enduring, progressive, and antifashion. Boutique or high street genderless is just a momentary pose.

END

[Table of contents]

F/W 2016 issue 26

Table of contents

purple NEWS

purple BEST of the SEASON

purple INTERVIEW

purple FASHON WOMEN

purple FASHION MEN

purple DOCUMENT

purple BEAUTY

purple ARCHITECTURE

purple TRAVEL

purple PHILO

purple SEX

purple NIGHT

purple STORY

purple VISUAL ESSAY

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