The Feminization of Men or Liberation from Traditional Masculinity?
In mainstream media, and particularly the world of fashion, there is a trend towards what I initially viewed as the feminization of men: historically feminine features of fashion donned on men such as clothing with ruffles, bra tops, elaborate makeup, adorned with jewelry such as large necklaces and dangly, rhinestone earrings.
Another example of this trend includes social media depictions of men performing makeup tutorials on themselves such as those popularized by makeup company owner Jeffree Star. In the December 2020 issue of Vogue magazine, musical artist Harry Styles became the first man to appear solo on the cover, and he did it wearing a Gucci dress paired with a double-breasted cropped tuxedo jacket. Later photos in the spread reveal more clearly the many traditionally feminine features of the long dress such as abundant ruffles of lace dotted with black bows. His motivation he cited for wearing the dress was a symbol of tolerance, creativity and breaking away from stereotypes with a message that one’s choice of clothing does not symbolize masculinity or femininity.
Another example of a person that regularly blurs the lines of gender norms in clothing and style is musical artist Doja Cat. In January 2023, she attended Paris Fashion week where she stepped out at the Schiaparelli fashion show with her skin covered from head down to her arms with more than 30,000 red glimmering Swarovski crystals and all red clothing, boots and jewelry - a very feminine and eyecatching look.
Then she attended the Viktor and Rolf fashion show with buzz-short hair paired with faux eyelashes to form pronounced eyebrows, mustache, and goatee overall depicting a more androgynous look. Her intent seemed more playful rather than pioneering; she relayed via a Tweet that her lash-centric look was motivated in response to fan feedback that she wasn’t wearing eyelashes in the former, Swarovski laden look that took so much effort and artistry.
Regardless of intent, I find looks such as these thought-provoking; when I see these images and videos, it triggers an inner dialogue in which I find myself evaluating my own mental construct of what defines masculinity and gender norms. Does our own fashion sense really define ourselves and our gender? And does masculinity even need a definition? Or can it just exist without a society approved definition? After all, each and every one of us encompasses attributes of both qualities in varying degrees regardless of our biological identity. Therefore, perhaps masculinity and femininity manifest in real life in a spectrum much like human emotions and the many other attributes that define our personal identification of self.
Looking further back in time, there have been many examples over decades and centuries of feminine attire making its way into men’s fashion often as a reverberation of underlying shifts in gender roles. More recent figures like Prince and David Bowie come to my mind or as far back as the ancient Greeks who wore long, draped dresslike togas. Then it could be that what I am noticing today are just examples of the inevitable ebb and flow of fashion trends and societal norms. Maybe we are not truly in a cultural flux, but these are just depictions media uses as a tactic to catch our attention. Conversely, it could be a true reflection of the mainstream with intent to blur the historical definitions of masculinity as an outright rejection of the historical gender norms and particularly traditional masculinity. If it’s the latter, masculinity and conversely femininity could merely be obsolete social constructs that are no longer relevant to modern society. While I have posed these many questions that may or may not have clear answers to any given person, I do think it is clear that biology does not define masculinity, femininity or lifestyle.