Gender is pretty much dead. In its traditional definitions it is at least in its death throw. To be honest it has been for years, if you’ve been paying attention. Outdated dichotomies such as male/female, young/old, thin/fat, straight/gay are just failing to remain relevant, and while there is a long way to go, society needs to react.
The lines between these archaic concepts have blurred so far that nations around the world have begun to realise that their own necessity for people to fit into neat little boxes might not work anymore. While they might have done this by making a third neat little box (‘other’), it is still a reflection on what’s going on in the world.
In recent years, talent management agencies have begun signing males as female models, and women who model as men. In some instances androgynous models will work exclusively within one field, while others are able to cast the net wider when it comes to landing jobs, because they can be styled as either male or female.
In a world which is attempting to de-institutionalise homophobia and sexism, are male and female still relevant terms? When a marketing agency asks for a ‘female’ model, the term is quite loaded. They might want the talent management agency to provide a feminine woman who looks motherly, or simply anyone with female attributes.
Allowing men to model women’s clothing has been criticised as misogynistic. Women naturally have curves which men don’t, and so a man won’t fit in clothing in the same way, so the effect created is very different from how a garment would look on a curvaceous woman. A slender male figure appears more like the size zero frames which have been heavily critiqued.
If only male models were used then perhaps the question of misogyny would be valid. Removing women entirely from the fashion industry would cause uproar. But talent management agencies see a need for models of all shapes, sizes, and appearances.
It isn’t just male models who have recently been filling the boots of their female counterparts. Ex-Olympic swimmer Casey Legler has signed exclusively as a male model, thanks to her tall frame and athletic physique.
Instead this gender challenging take on the world of fashion fills a gap. Women wear men’s clothes, and men wear women’s.
The breaking down of male and female isn’t especially new as a phenomenon. The 1980s saw David Bowie pushing gender boundaries, and Virginia Woolf’s 1920s novel Orlando discusses a metamorphosis from male to female, before the eponymous character flutters seamlessly between their male and female forms. So if the concept isn’t new, why is it new to mainstream representation?
Casey Legler and Andrej Pejic both broke ground, modelling clothes designed for the opposite sex. These fashion models might still conform to other traditional and frequently unrealistic criteria – they are still tall, thin, stunning – but when it comes to changing perceptions, it’s probably better to do it one little step at a time rather than to try and change all the rules at once.
Will It Last?
Perhaps marketing companies chose transgender or androgynous models for their campaigns because it will create a stir. Perhaps it’s a fad. But as long as people pick their clothes from the section not assigned to their gender, cross dress, or refuse to conform, marketing campaigns which adapt are fulfilling a role in society. And wherever there is demand, talent management agencies are obliged to find candidates to fill it.
Models aren’t, and never have been, exclusively involved in high fashion. It makes up only a small part of the profession, and we would like to see a rise in the androgynous model in the other aspects. After all, shouldn’t there be someone to demonstrate non gender specific work wear, and children’s clothing whose palette isn’t just pink for girls and blue for boys?
Specific cuts of the clothes themselves obviously vary depending on figure – which is, in part, determined by gender. It can make it difficult for a man whose figure doesn’t fit a designer’s perception of the norm to find clothing. If there is a demand for clothing which is for everyone, not just for men or women, then surely designers will fill it?