As long as I can remember, the coolest girls always dressed like boys. Walking down busy Chicago streets with my parents, tripping on my own feet, staring at girls in awe hoping when I was in my twenties I would look just like them. The ones that always caught my attention were the ones who looked like they didn’t care. And by that I mean messy, flowing hair and baggy pants. Cropped shirts but oversized jackets and sweaters. Silhouettes that were more manly than feminine, yet looked better on a girl than they would on any man. Masculinity in womenswear is nothing new, and it is something widely accepted and lauded. Bella Hadid, today’s It-girl, is always praised the most for her menswear inspired looks, despite wearing both traditionally feminine and masculine pieces. Her most simple outfits consisting of baggy cargo pants and an oversized button up or men’s suiting capture more attention than her traditionally feminine outfits.
However, where masculinity in womenswear has been a staple for years and is welcomed in the fashion industry, the reverse hasn’t always received the same treatment. Menswear traditionally kept to masculine ideals: tailored suiting, strong silhouettes and common but timeless cuts. It seemed almost as if the great fashion houses of the world gathered one day and created their ideal man. One that was very much manly: strong, muscular, short hair and a basic taste in outfitting. Nothing too tight, nothing cropped too much above the waist. Where womenswear often dips into menswear silhouettes, ready-to-wear menswear tends to avoid a feminine influence.
That’s not to discredit some of the men who embraced femininity in fashion. David Bowie, Prince and Freddie Mercury all left a lasting impact on society with their bold wardrobes that were far from the common masculine trends of the time. However, while they were able to express themselves without following gender norms, these aesthetics were not commonly accepted in the world of menswear, especially for traditionally masculine men. This, of course, brings up the issue of fragile masculinity. For years, men gravitating towards anything traditionally feminine was dragged down and ridiculed, mainly because people thought it took away from their manliness.
The difference we are now able to notice, however, is that femininity does not take away from masculinity. In fact, when men embrace their feminine side it makes them more masculine in a way. Is there not power in being strong enough in your identity to embrace femininity without worrying it will wash away your manliness?
This has become increasingly prevalent in mainstream media and fashion. Male influencers and fashion enthusiasts are embracing skirts, nail polish and makeup, all things that were traditionally deemed to be just for girls. Rick Owens fans have been wearing Kiss Heels regardless of gender or sexuality, appreciating the product for what it is as opposed to conforming to societal norms. This pattern has also been established in the world of luxury fashion, from the runways straight to the consumers. One label that is at the helm of forgetting gender roles in menswear is GOOMHEO.
Founded by Goom Heo, the South Korean label ignores the traditional labels of gender. With waist defining jackets and slim, ruched pants, Heo’s eponymous label is known for subversive menswear that pushes the boundaries of masculinity. Her Harpoon Pleated Fitted Trouser follows a pattern more commonly embraced by womenswear for its ability to focus on the curves of the body. These pants also have a vent at the hem that allows for an almost flared look, once again a common trend in womenswear.
ERL pushes boundaries in a different way. The Los Angeles based label has found a specific niche with the cool kids in the art and fashion scenes, pushing colors and aesthetics that are not traditionally masculine. Take for example the Gradient Shearling Leather Coat, a stunning piece in pastel purple that years ago, men would stray away from. All of ERL’s puffer coats are also typically feminine in color and pattern, yet have been rocked by some of the biggest male celebrities and are sought after by the people who follow them. ERL does a great job of introducing its male audience to traditionally feminine colorways and patterns while making it cool to wear them.
One of the most historically prominent and respected fashion houses, with the founder belonging to the Antwerp Six, has been embracing femininity in a not so subtle manner. The ever prevalent Dries Van Noten’s use of colors and materials lend themselves to a more feminine take on traditionally masculine silhouettes. Take the Carvie Shirt, in all its sequined, sparkling glory. With a standard collar and simple silhouette, this is clearly a men’s shirt, but the coloring and details add a feminine touch that takes the shirt to another level. The label incorporates sequins onto other traditional men’s silhouettes like the Vaksel Jacket. This bomber is quite simple in composition, but features a show stealing floral sequin embroidery along the front chest. Sequins and sparkles are conventionally associated with womenswear, but Dries Van Noten beautifully incorporates them into their menswear in a way that enhances without overpowering. Subtle to some, but strong to others, the beauty of Dries Van Noten is that his blurring of gender lines in fashion is effortless and blends right into the rest of the men’s pieces.
While older houses are tapping into their feminine side, newer up-and-coming labels like Feng Chen Wang are going at it with full force. If you peruse through the Chinese brand’s collection, there are multiple garments that challenge typical menswear silhouettes. For example, high waisted pants with a wide, cinched leg have been a trending women’s silhouette for years. Wang taps into the form of the skirt for many of her men’s pants. Ultra wide-legged silhouettes that are cropped at the knee lend themselves to look more like skirts than a pair of shorts.
Figures like Pete Davidson and Russel Westbrook have played around with the concept of skirts, helping show the increase in traditionally masculine men embracing a more delicate silhouette. Additionally, the #meninskirts hashtag on tiktok trended in 2022, indicating more men are both following the trend and interested in seeing it.
The beauty of these labels pushing hints of femininity into their ready to wear men’s pieces is that it opens things up to the regular consumer. As more labels stray from the traditional structure of menswear and allow themselves to embrace femininity, more consumers are able to feed into accepting the femininity within their own masculinity. It won’t just be David Bowie or Prince that can tap into their feminine side, it will be John at the coffee shop who feels okay wearing sequins. It will be Kevin from across the street who you see rocking a cropped sweater with floral embroidery. The more labels that accept femininity into their menswear, the more men will realize that femininity does not take away from masculinity. Rather, embracing it without fear actually proves you’re more comfortable in your masculinity than ever.
Text by Yusra Shah