Is It Finally Time to Stop Separating Men’s and Women’s Fashion?

On the runway at Fendi’s fall ’22 men’s show during Milan Men’s Fashion Week last month, there were Mary Jane heels, pearl necklaces, crystal earrings, skirts and knee socks. For any women or non-male-identifying individuals who are fans of the brand and in the market for a feminine touch, it was hard not to ask:  “Can I buy these pieces, too?”

The incremental build of traditionally feminine touches to menswear is, of course, not new. Last season, Fendi also showed crop tops and mini-shorts on the runway for spring ’22. Before the pandemic, the fall ’20 menswear season was a distinctive push forward, with Rick Owens’s now cultish platforms and Christian Louboutin’s elegant heels turning a page on masculinity. At Gucci, creative director Alessandro Michele has been purveying feminine accessories and silhouettes for years now — and helping friend and muse Harry Styles slip into them for an even more public display of what the new “manly man” might look like, regardless of sexual orientation.

Knee socks, Mary Janes, handbags and skirts on the runway at Fendi fall ’22 men’s.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Fendi

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But this season, the most marked change might not have been on the runways but in real life instead. During Paris Men’s Fashion Week, the “man-bag” took on a new life, overtly worn in more traditionally feminine ways, slung over the shoulder, jauntily crossed on the body or clutched in hand. Some of the handbags were clearly from women’s collections, too. The common thread of these handbag wearers seemed to have nothing to do with any sexual or gender orientation and everything to do with a hypebeast mentality — collecting Chanel women’s bags and Louis Vuitton by Virgil Abloh men’s satchels with equal fervor.

On the male-dominated (but demographically shifting) StockX, Chanel, Jacqemus and Amina Muaddi bags are among the highlighted brands and accessories, and some male collectors are scooping up bags as often as they’re nabbing the latest sneaker drops. It’s yet another sign of the fast-growing openness and fluidity that men of all orientations are applying to fashion. It’s visible in Jacquemus’s latest campaign and collection preview, starring music artist Bad Bunny in a minidress with socks and high heels. It can also be seen on the red carpet, with artists like Kid Cudi in dresses, Pharrell Williams in tweed jackets and many more in a wide array of jewelry.

Kid Cud on the red carpet in November wearing a dress with jeans and sneakers. The actor and music artist’s style has come to embody a growing fluidity in fashion for men.

“When it comes to jewelry and accessories, it’s a question of courage,” said Valerie Steele, director of the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. “You did see some of that in the ’60s and early ’70s,” she added, recalling an executive at Tiffany & Co. from that era who scoffed at the idea of selling the brand’s jeweled necklaces to men when they began to express interest in buying pieces for themselves.

The fashion historian also pointed back to Rudy Gernreich, the mid-century designer whose creations were purposefully used to advance sexual freedom and push the boundaries of gender identity at a time of much exploration of both.

A handbag look on the street at Paris Men’s Fashion Week in January.
Women’s handbags as a key men’s street style trend at Paris Men’s Fashion Week.

“[Gernreich] was quite ideological about not only wanting to open up menswear to women, but also to give men the chance to wear clothes like dress-like caftans and leggings and so on, offering the same kind of physical freedom non-cliched gender identity,” Steele said of the designer, who also invented the women’s topless monokini. “I think he was trying to offer the possibility that you wouldn’t be backed into a stereotype of masculinity or femininity.”

That is perhaps the same idea that Christian Louboutin is putting forth with his latest collection, “Our Angels.” A genderless capsule consisting of high-heeled boot styles, the collection zeroes in on silhouettes, materials and constructions that have come to define a glamorous intersection of genders in modern fashion, from the platform to the Chelsea boot, patent leather to leopard print. It also offers an extended sizing range from 36 to 46. The collection, in all its glamor and equity, seems to ask the question many both in and out of the fashion industry have asked as of late:  Should we stop separating men’s and women’s fashion?

Christian Louboutin’s “Our Angels,” a collection that centers on styles and materials that appeal to a glamorous intersection of genders.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Christian Louboutin

“What I like about angels is that they don’t have gender but are still very sensual,” writes Louboutin himself in the collection’s release notes. “It relates to so many people I like and admire, human yet celestial, making me dream. It appeared very natural to dedicate a collection to what I’ve named Our Angels.”

The collection debuted on Feb. 2 at both Louboutin’s site and boutiques and at Nordstrom, where John Langston, the retailer’s buyer for designer women’s and kid’s footwear, pointed to “authenticity and fashion authority” in the genderless space as what the retailer’s customers are looking for.

“The momentum around genderless fashion accelerated from previous seasons and we saw many designers embrace deconstructing the binary concept of gender by playing around with color, tailoring, and shapes in non-conformist ways that push the boundaries of masculinity and femininity,” said Langston.

Christian Louboutin’s “Our Angels” collection has a sizing run of 36 to 46.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Christian Louboutin

Handbags and jewelry are an easy enough switch from gender to gender, from one human body to another. But in both ready-to-wear and footwear, sizing becomes an inevitable obstacle to achieving true gender equity in the design and manufacturing of an item.

“There are to some extent differences in the body formation of many men and many women,” Steele pointed out. “So even if you have something like blue jeans, usually men’s jeans are cut somewhat differently than women’s jeans, but you have to factor in that you’re mass-manufacturing it, it’s not a custom fit, it’s not couture, it’s just produced in sizing increments.”

Langston agreed. “Fit and sizing has always been calibrated to a binary concept of ‘male’ and ‘female’ and can be a challenge when combining men’s and women’s collections,” he said. The buyer added that Nordstrom pays extra attention to fit testing and sizing of genderless collections to make sure that the product holds up when it meets a customer’s foot.

An embroidered clog from Dior’s new Birkenstock collab, which debuted on the runway at Paris Men’s Fashion Week. Birkenstock’s footbed shaping is done without gender consideration.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Dior

Outside the realm of feminine-tinged men’s fashion (and the long-running turn towards menswear in parts of women’s fashion), there are, of course, true genderless brands, aesthetics and footwear that promote a more non-gendered look — and have the fit and sizing to match.

The Crocs clog and sandal silhouettes are purposely designed for all genders, a brand spokesperson confirmed. At Birkenstock, European sizing comes in regular and wide widths, but there is no gender distinction in the shaping of the footbed fit, the brand confirmed. The genderless sizing helps to explain why both brands’ fashion collabs continuously appeal to all genders, both on the runways and when it comes to actual sales of the items.

One of the best recent examples of his-and-hers-and-everyone’s wear came from Jonah Hill and girlfriend Sarah Brady, who showed up to the premiere of “Don’t Look Up” in December wearing head to toe matching looks. The couple wore custom Gucci suits, which had a similar relaxed fit on each of them. But they didn’t stop there. They also each wore an assortment of delicate and decorative antique lapel pins from Fred Leighton, plus a few coordinated necklaces. On foot, their Manolo Blahnik brocade slides (which seemed to the naked eye to also be nearly the same size) nicely summed up the current state of genderless fashion:  It’s ok to try something new now.

Jonah Hill and girlfriend Sarah Brady at the December premiere of “Don’t Look Up” in matching Gucci suits, Fred Leighton lapel pins and Manolo Blahnik brocade mules.

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