Gender Bending at Men’s Fashion Week: Fad or Here to Stay?

Designers from Calvin Klein to Tom Ford are blurring the lines.

February 10, 2018 5:00 am
A model walks the runway at Tom Ford Men's - February 2018 - New York Fashion Week at Park Avenue Armory on February 6, 2018 in New York City.  (Presley Ann/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
A model walks the runway at Tom Ford Men's - February 2018 - New York Fashion Week at Park Avenue Armory on February 6, 2018 in New York City. (Presley Ann/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)

The fashion industry wants a piece of gender fluidity. For years, putting women in menswear—from a boho-chic Annie Hall with her tie and fedora to YSL tuxedo suits—was a thing. These days, the thing is to put men in womenswear. The question becomes if women are wearing what men wear, and men are wearing what women wear, then aren’t terms like menswear and womenswear destined to become obsolete? Or is gender bending in menswear a passing trend, a spoke in the wheel of the fashion cycle.

For designer Alejandro Gómez Palomo, of the romantic menswear label Palomo Spain, dismantling gender norms is a mainstay of the label, which encourages men to wear dresses if they so choose. The designer, however, gained prominence when Beyoncé wore one of his dresses in her Instagram post revealing her twins Rumi and Sir Carter to the world. So, is Palomo Spain a menswear or womenswear label? See the conundrum.

(Courtesy of Palomo Spain)

Of course the woke answer du jour is to throw the notion of gender out all together. But what does this mean for the fashion industry? For New York Fashion Week, (NYFW) there have been a couple of shake-ups. Calvin Klein, a label reinvigorated thanks to last year’s CFDA winner Raf Simons, is closing out fashion week (womenswear) with a co-ed show, bypassing a menswear show altogether. The overachiever is showing three times, with a menswear and womenswear collection of his eponymous label in addition to the co-ed show for Calvin Klein.

For emerging tailored streetwear menswear brand Death to Tennis, by William Watson and Vincent Oshin, men weren’t exactly in skirts, but the collection of harem pants and bomber jackets were heavy on floral jacquard prints—a stark contrast to an older house like Perry Ellis, who had men in tailored athleisure and chinos.

It’s the sleek nubies to the game who seem to be taking the most gender bending risks in menswear, like Eckhaus Latta (helmed by Mike Eckhaus and Zoe Latta) who just launched a sexy gender fluid denim campaign to celebrate the label’s inclusion in NYFW. Remember when mom jeans were a thing? And then dad jeans? Eckhaus Latta has done the unthinkable and put men and women in the same jeans, the label calls “Everyone Jeans.”

At Tom Ford, we weren’t expecting anything too gender bending—after all the man has a cult following for his suits, which debuted on the runway just in time for awards season. (All the pretty men will be wearing a Tom Ford suit on Oscar night.) But, there was a pastel pink suit in the FW18 collection, most certainly a nod to the current obsession with gender fluidity, as this wouldn’t be a red carpet pick for Hollywood A-listers shopping the catwalks.

The men’s NYFW show we were all waiting to see was the aforementioned Raf Simons menswear FW18 collection, and it delivered. While the most non-gender conforming pieces of the collection were leather elbow-length gloves, an integral piece of Victorian “lady” attire, the show was presented as a work of art. In what was an homage to ‘70s Bowie, Glenn O’Brien and the fetishization of drug culture, the show, titled “Youth in Motion,” was a full-scale fashion production. Lasers, shooting across the space, which felt like a ‘90s warehouse rave, helped set the scene, along with flowers, bottles of wine, and slabs of chocolate on the runway. Not only did this show bring attention to men’s NYFW, it said to the fashion world that menswear shows can be just as lavishly decadent and painstakingly produced as womenswear shows. And that’s where the gender bending comes in.

Outside Ovadia & Sons by the Ovadia twins, Ariel and Shimon, guests were pat down before gaining entrance to the show, a first for this fashion editor. The show was a miss—with a melange of rodeo wear, Bitcoin slogan T-shirts, and gender bending looks that felt like an afterthought rather than a statement, or even Ford’s pink nod. The fail here is the lack of artistry you see in the work of say, Palomo, where the man in the organza silk dress makes sense. To simply dress men up in women’s clothing, like a feminine leopard print coat at Ovadia & Sons,  is to miss the mark of gender bending in menswear. The former feels artificial and put on, whereas the later exudes authenticity, and thus artistry.

Will this trend make it from the catwalks to the sidewalks? In a town like New York, you never know. Still, of all the arts, fashion is transparent in that it’s a business, and if gender bending in menswear proves to be a commercial flop, then this is most likely a trend rather than a sartorial shift.

(Courtesy of Ovadia Sons)

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