Let me start off by saying that I'm not a girl. Sure, I like wearing skirts, dresses, and lipstick, and my nails are usually painted a powdery blue--and strangers on the phone almost exclusively refer to me as "ma'am"--but the fact of the matter is I have a penis and I don't have any intentions of changing that. So call me whatever you want, kids. I don't mind the label. At the moment I'm comfortably occupying a space outside of defined gender, mostly because I have no idea how to identify just yet.
For the purposes of this story, let's say I'm a man. I've got all the pre-reqs, after all. While I'm certainly no Vin Diesel (see the above illustration...I'm in the middle), I've got enough wispy hairs on my chin and a certain thickness to my throat to cause strangers on the street to often do a double take when they see me, glammed out in black cherry lips and a floor length floral midi skirt. And while the fashion world is absolutely one of the most progressive communities on earth in terms of gender identity, you can imagine I felt a mild apprehension as I strode up to Industria Superstudios on Wednesday morning in the West Village, preparing to conduct a string of interviews and to surround myself with some of the hottest, frattiest male models in town.
I wore my favorite aforementioned Revlon Black Cherry lipstick on my thin little lips and a backless, skin-tight body-con dress that my mom had bought for me (50 percent off at American Apparel.) I wasn't exactly looking cis. Although admittedly I did try to bro it up with a white baseball cap and some Converse sneakers.
Androgyny has been a major playground for designers since runway shows first existed. There's a whole archive of iconic gender-bending moments in the collective High Fashion Scrapbook. Think Katherine Hepburn pioneering pants and flats on women, or Grace Jones' severely chic looks of the '80s, or Kanye West sporting a leather skirt on the Watch the Throne tour.
There's models like Andreja Pejic and Hari Nef reshaping the modern landscape to allow freedom of gender expression for all of us aspiring queer divas out there. So at New York Men's Fashion Week, I expected a certain level of boundary-pushing androgyny in the upcoming spring 2017 designs. My experience was at once exhilarating and disappointing.
My skirt look was applauded by my fellow kweens. I was snapped a few times by street style photographers, but the muscled, tattooed male models I bumped into backstage kept on ignoring me. 10 years ago, I doubt I could have taken the subway from Flatbush to West 4th in a dress without being smacked. It's great that we've reached a stage where that's okay.
Men's fashion has come a long way since the sole shirt-and-jeans uniform that was available to me as a boy. Yet, many of the shows I saw last week played things extraordinarily safe. There were a few dresses and skirts here and there. I applaud Max 'n' Chester's nonchalant inclusion of a full-on navy dress into their collection squished between linen pant suits.
Also of note, Woodhouse delivered an incredible presentation on the opening day, and had me thinking about black and white culottes ever since. Tim Coppens, as always, gave me the appropriate level of weird prints and off-kilter shapes I'm craving for at a fashion show.
Overall, too many designers seem to think making T-shirts longer so they look a little more feminine, or layering in some mesh, or--shocker!--adding some pink looks in a collection to make it more gender fluid. John Varvatos said it best when he proclaimed, "The uniform is dead." Now, Men's Fashion Week needs to let that sink in.
One of the changes that could be made, and some brands such as DKNY, Hood by Air, and Vetements have already embraced it, would be to hack away the gender binary and present men's and women's wear together, with runways featuring models wearing what they feel comfortable wearing--some pants, a skirt, or a backless body-con dress.
I respect all these designers immensely for their vision. But when you have an audience at a runway show, reveal to the crowd something that will confuse them. Give them a spectacle. Keep them questioning their khakis as they slump onto the subway later that night. We want the see the future.