Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Fragile Masculinity and Menswear

There is nothing more satisfying than a blistering take down of fragile masculinity, wouldn’t you agree? Commonly defined as “a term to describe the actions of men who are afraid of showing any physical or emotional bond to the men they are friends with”; moreover, it is the aversion to anything considered traditionally feminine, hence companies have to prescribe their products with stereotypical notions of gender—familiar with man size tissues? 

The fashion industry regularly reinforces the egos of men with fragile masculinities. Although he could covertly consume Bridget Jones novels or watch Eat, Pray, Love and blast Beyoncé in his car—three actions that would confusedly threaten his masculinity—he would be unable to conceal the pink hoodie he wears on the street. Consequently, fashion houses exist to present this customer with unlimited options. Aggressive masculinity, the image of a macho man has long been the traditional convention within men’s fashion. There are plentiful suiting options that cater to a long line of upper class men, but those are excusable—a job requirement for some. Looking at a brand like Versace one witnesses this engendering of boldly masculine designs which serves only those men and their attitude towards clothing. (How could one forget the oppressively masculine Spring 2013 collection, where the chiselled bodies of models were encased in gladiatorial uniform.) The abhorrent stylistic presence of Philipp Plein is manliness on acid—an overly-aggressive, tacky expression. Givenchy is another prime example: former creative director Ricardo Tisci religiously explored sports codes and exaggerated machismo within his designs. 
Why is it so important that fashion subverts notions of traditional masculinity? Simply, it has the power to do so. We often forget the immense power and influence fashion bears. They are the clothes we wear on our back after all. The trickle-down effect of high fashion to the high street is indelible; what is presented in New York, London, Milan and Paris eventually makes its way to the Topshops & H&Ms of the world in the form of unashamedly ersatz garments appropriating high fashion trends. The resurgence of pink on the high street has been noticeable—salmon, pale pink, dusty rose appear on sweatshirts, t-shirts and jackets and as it is considered fashionable, men have been warming to it. 

Perhaps its the influence of celebrity culture. Actor Jared Leto was excitingly Gucci-clad throughout the Suicide Squad promotional tour last summer; Alessandro Michele’s unorthodoxly maximal ideas unfolded on the red carpet, press stop after press stop, with the public keenly following what he would wear next. Rapper Young Thug has willingly toyed with his masculinity, wearing a frothy Molly Goddard tulle dress in his Dazed magazine cover shoot. (The perspective of a black man is particularly interesting because of the commonly homophobic lyrics buried in rap music and culture.) Jaden Smith, son of actor Will, controversially (it’s 2017!) starred in Louis Vuitton’s Spring 2017 womenswear campaign. Also, he electrified the pages of Vogue Korea dressed in womenswear. 
Grace Wales Bonner, London-based menswear designer, has built a career on dissecting and reframing black masculinity and dismantling its stereotypes. The men in her shows, comprised of models and artists and musicians, comfortably wear dresses on her runways, elaborately decorative pieces that are generally reserved for womenswear shows. Simultaneously exploring the whimsical dress of black history, Wales Bonner has galvanised menswear with her approach to design. It isn’t restricted by what men expect, but what they should come to expect. Similarly, the perspective of gay man Sebastiaan Pieter, at his eponymous label Pieter, is fascinating. His work isn’t punctuated by what society would have us believe a gay designer would be presenting—his work isn’t camp or cartoonish, it encompasses the machismo aesthetic but subverts it with tongue-in-cheek references to Grindr culture which, of course, repels those with a fragile masculinity. Wales Bonner and Pieter’s perspectives are essential to extending the dialogue, they make fashion that reaches everyone. 

It’s true to say everyone should be uplifted by their clothing. If someone feels good in something they should wear it more often. Dismantling fragile masculinity serves a purpose: it isn’t about encouraging all men to wear a Shocking pink Gucci suit, but to redefine traditional notions of masculinity and enable them to shamelessly don that suit; to disallow their virility from overshadowing their clothing choices. Freedom and acceptance are what we should strive for, don’t be bound by your fragile masculinity. 

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