Gold and ivory, colours so enriched and beguiling, the beauty it holds in the eyes of spectators is a utopia. The flashes of light that catch the colours in their iridescence, enhancing the pretty blush pinks and virginal white they coexist with, the entire room subjugating to this beauty of the woman in chiffon, with a man on his knees for her. This is a charming vision, the perfect coexistence between femininity and sexuality. But, in all its enchanting beauty, it ignores the idiosyncrasies of the female form.
Digressing from this blatant hyper-femininity, female designers are breaking the standardisation of female beauty by adapting androgyny and male charm. Within the gender imbalance, the paradigm has always been that clothes designed for women by men are typically bold reflections of the male gaze. This is the powerful male designers subconscious conditioning to feminise women. With designers amongst the likes of Alexander McQueen, Elie Saab, or Zuhair Murad, their creation of gowns are a myriad of stunning, but dependent on the hyper-femininity of females.
This is where the new wave of female designers like Phoebe Philo and Jil Sander’s meet with innovation in the fashion scene. It was 2008 when Phoebe Philo started designing for Celine, bringing with her a vision of self-actualisation to the brands designs and coalescing the understated beauty of masculine clothing on a female body. This revolution externalised towards Kanye West wearing the women’s silk shirt design in 2011. This only precedes to show the oscillation in gendered clothes, where women are much more than overtly pretty. It is no wonder then, that Phoebe Philo has been so popular amongst critics with her style of suit jackets and Stan Smiths.
The beauty of an ephemeral narrative is that it is always changing. It is timing that understands the effects of a woman wearing stereotypically masculine clothing as playing with the complexities of women. Within their transience, female designers understand the anatomy of a woman with more vigour and intrigue than in the past. Therefore, this notion that pretty and hyper-femininity are mutually exclusive as opposed to a binary excludes the idea that romantic beauty is not the only beauty that makes women feel romanticised and confident.
This is not to eradicate the talent and beauty of feminine gowns by male designers. These male designers who dress women do so in the most beautiful fashion, extenuating there most feminine features and having them look like 70s Queens in the modern age, while creating stunning gowns, pure works of art. It is rather to discuss the inherent paradox in the expectation of women to be both pretty and sexy, that is sexy enough to be perceived as strong, yet impotent in its bare form. The fashion industry is always fighting these ideologies of sexy and silent, it is women designers who are understanding the importance of something more than hyper-femininity. Stunning gowns that captivate the eye are only as beautiful as they are inspiring. Show me girls in half-buns and messy hair and messier clothes. Show me a girl that is a mess.
The industry has worked tirelessly to equalise the industry with powerful females changing the femininity game, who understand that women do not need to be hyper feminised to be admired, but rather that by having more personality to a look, the effect is an alignment with women in modern society.
This is not to trivialise androgyny, but the awareness remains that the subordination of the masculinity within females, the want to wear brogues and suits are welcomed by the women within the industry who understand that there is more to a female than over romanticising certain soft features, because ultimately who even has the right to make that decision? Girls can be jealous and needy and strong and dangerous in ways segregated from men and fashion is a narrative on this, or at least evolving to be.
While femininity is appealing, it’s also not the only way to express gender and fashion. There is also something altogether beautiful about how a woman can look beguiling in her most masculine form, that gender is not merely defined by sections in a retail store, that would be too mild an explanation for the complexities of fashion and the human form.
In the past, it was Diane Keaton in suits. In contemporary media, there’s the pop artist Christine and the Queens or actress Tilda Swindon who are creating a myriad of styles verging on being just oneself. So in the end, if we eradicate the lights of fashion week, the runways and famous supermodels, then all that is left is self-expression, it really doesn’t matter as much as being aware that sexy doesn’t have a single thing to do with how you dress but how you feel.
The beauty of a woman is not actually defined in the way they dress, there really is no wrong way to dress, even as you scour tips, runway and street style, the idea remains that fashion appeals to both genders, and the burdens and tribulations should be shared equally in dressing women in more than one style. There is something altogether more beautiful about the outbreak of female designers understanding what it means to be a masculine woman and still be romanticised and beautiful, and how this brings with it, its own kind of power.
Sarah Burton discussed the 2017 Alexander McQueen designs for men as there being an element of “a softness to it as well as a masculinity.” So this is not only a one-sided debate, but oscillates to the dandy femininity in males, about an open-minded narrative that lends itself to growth. She talked about how there is a “It’s Oscar Wilde, it’s military, it’s dandy, it’s aristocratic, it’s romantic” – there is a dichotomy then in the ephemeral narrative. That fashion is not standardised, restricted within gender barriers, but an artistic playing field, a game of tennis that oscillates, the playing field always changing. This is the beginning of an age in fashion where gender persists as the background noise to always teasing and challenging the narrative of gendered clothing where these “clean silhouettes” are just the beginning of the fashion revolution that questions gender norms.
Photo Credit: Jim Rosemberg