Menswear and gender fluidity: Fashion fad or retail reality?

From headline-grabbing fashion stories to S/S16 fashion campaigns to your local high street store: the great genderless debate is everywhere.

A quick scroll of Instagram shows male models rocking floral print kick flared suits as well as pussy-bow blouses and skirts, and women in loose fitting, over-sized trousers teamed with a men’s suit jacket.

How did we end up here? With gender fluidity in fashion being one of the biggest conversations of 2016?

Well, it’s not that surprising actually. Women have been borrowing from men’s wardrobes for decades (Yves Saint Laurent’s stunning ‘Le Smoking’; Iris Apfel’s triumphant 1940’s foray into jeans-for-girls), so nobody batted an Avirex bomber jacket when the baggy boyfriend jean, the sloppy boyfriend knit and a slew of over-sized jackets went the 21st century way of the tuxedo and became a womenswear favourite.

With artists and fashion designers expressing notions of fluid sexuality and non-binary gender in their work, these ideas are gradually homogenised from the persecuted fringes of society and translated for mass consumption by magazine editors, fashion bloggers and stylists, keen to celebrate this new diversity with shoots, editorials, articles and blog posts a go-go. In a world that increasingly appears to be on the brink of a new era of regressive conservatism, we should arguably celebrate every freedom we currently enjoy… just in case.

Because of all this, social media, blogs and more- this new gender conversation feels like it’s being embraced on a bigger scale and globally. Unlike fashion fads before it, this feels like it is not just the preserve of art school experimenters, tooth-pick thin and donning more-than-just-a-cuban-heel and a bit of boho chic in the wake of Gucci’s new aesthetic.

This conversation, is different, it is bigger, because it is against the backdrop of an emerging, new breed of male; who is born out of the noughties Metrosexual phenomenon that saw men take conscious control of their image and shrug off the pretense that they didn’t care how they looked. This ‘new butch’, (which was, just a few years ago ‘a bit gay’) has been effectively marketed as the new and acceptable face of ‘normality’.

Why does this matter? Well, from a very young age, boys are taught to cling resolutely to this notion of normal masculinity, for fear of being marked out as weak or effeminate. However, while ‘new butch’ still bears a striking ironic resemblance to a Tom of Finland drawing, it’s easy to see that it is, frankly, poles apart from the one we are seeing in the media at the moment; the one whose forefathers are Placebo’s Brian Molko, Suede’s Brett Anderson, David Bowie, Prince and the New York Dolls. Now, this incarnation, this masculinity version 3.0 is one that strives to move past the contrived and into an era where we stop seeing gender and just see people.

However, as lovely as all that sounds, it’s not even going to matter much beyond the trendier inner-city enclaves, nor will it carry much truck on provincial streets on a Saturday night. Why? Because most men’s fashion will remain safely within the realms of the same comfortable and familiar themes that most men love – utility, military, sporty, traditional workwear and the sartorial expression of tailoring. The thing is, no-one needs to worry about the straight, white, middle-class, western male; he’s doing just fine! There’s plenty of room for the balance to be redressed still more, without that burgeoning demographic being threatened at all.

No, something else drastically needs to change at the same time as the amount of floral prints it’s ok for a guy to wear in one outfit, or just how much décolletage a wide-necked top can show if you’re gifted with the Y chromosome – it’s about tolerance and it’s a mindset. Not all men will want to dress this way and no-one is saying they have to, it’s just time to stop belittling and threatening those who do. Because they are not threat to anyone else’s masculinity.

I really want to believe that the big genderless story isn’t just another fad but is another milestone, another flag in the ground that we’ll look back on as a step towards a time where young people don’t grow up shamed for wanting an identity that society isn’t comfortable with. It’s possible to conceive a time when we stop seeing men’s and women’s clothes and just see style.

Like this? Follow Nick on Twitter here and read up on Nick’s style history of the Punk movement here.

WANT MORE? For more in-depth menswear fashion and retail analysis, join WGSN.

Know what’s next. Become a WGSN member today to benefit from our daily trend intelligence, retail analytics, consumer insights and bespoke consultancy services.