Friday, 7 December 2012

Real Men Wear Heels (article)

An article based around diversity in mens clothing...

Have you ever begged your boyfriend to let you do his make up? Sweet talked him into shaving his legs? Bribed him into braiding his hair? Granted just for fun, probably only because as a typical alpha male, you could be certain he was going to refuse your generous offer. But can you imagine if he were to ask to wear your mascara and lip gloss at his own will? Or pestered you to lend him your favorite dress? How would you feel? Angry? Disgusted? Amused? Presumably very differently to how he would react seeing you in his shirt or beanie hat. When asked, almost 100% of men said they wouldn’t mind if their partner borrowed a shirt from them. However, only one in three women would be willing to share! In the modern day world that we live in, where clothes are used as an expression of oneself, should this still be the case?

Men's fashion hasn’t always been so limited. Take a man from the 18th century; eccentric and expressive, ornately embroidered velvet and luxurious materials. Today an outfit as such would be seen as ‘feminine.’ However, in the 18th century lavish menswear illustrated aristocracy. It wasn’t uncommon for men to wear tights, wigs and even corsets. How has it happened that while the rest of the world has developed and diversified, menswear has back peddled into a dull and repetitive ‘maniform’? Since the 1920‘s feminists have been making the world ‘equal.’ Stealing every form of masculinity, one step at a time. Meanwhile men have been stuck in a fashion straight jacket, for decades. Even now, when men take the first few steps towards becoming more expressive, in program's such as ‘TOWIE’ where they are groomed, plucked and preened just as much -if not more, than we girls! We are not quite willing to embrace their efforts. Even I -preaching about how men should express themselves, cannot type the words ‘men’ and ‘fake tan’ in the same sentence without my skin crawling. Why are we not ready to accept all diversity in men's fashion?

Working at a high street shoe store, I come across the fashion savvy, the on trend and the sheep but not often the extravagant. So it was certainly a surprise when a teenage boy wearing a school uniform, shyly asked if he could try on a pair of black heels in a size 9. I was struck with shock and ,regretfully, amusement. It wasn’t until I reappeared with the most audacious pair of heels that I could find that I noticed my error, the boy was shaking and clearly uncomfortable with the way he wanted to dress. I asked if he had ever worn heels before and he replied no, he told me he liked to wear girls jeans and had been wanting to try a more feminine shoe. I found that I was analyzing the poor chap to decide whether or not he was gay. Why did I care and more importantly why would he be? I can not imagine going into a shop, buying a pair of nikes and the sales assistant labeling me as a lesbian, just because they were ‘masculine’. So where had I evolved my judgmental notions, that for a boy to have a feminine style he had to be gay?

The media are constantly pushing sexist propaganda onto consumers. Campaigns such as French Connection's ‘For Man' & ‘For Woman’, create very generic images of a man, through slogans such as ‘men should be brave’, the media force all men under one label of how they should look. Likewise male magazines such as GQ and Esquire are constantly berating any man who dares reach out of his confined fashion box, slating extroverts such as Russell Brand and Johnny Depp in the top 10 worst dressed males under the caption ‘these men have broken the rules’. How in this era of liberation are there still ‘rules’ specifying the extent to which men are allowed to express themselves through fashion. Under the same publications their sister Magazines, Elle and Vogue have a contradictory take on diversity when it comes to womenswear. Singing the praises to any female experimenting and pushing the limits. Women with a similar level of extravagance to that of “the worst dressed men’ such as Pixie Geldof are regularly captioned as a style icon or trend setter. Geldof has even been given her own “Today I am wearing” section on Vogue online. Unlike women, men are given no inspiration through the media to experiment with fashion. Additionally, women are not exposed to diverse menswear and thus don’t encourage or appreciate it. This generic message from the media, of how men should look, walk and talk is brainwashing us all. Its time for it to change.

Some cultures have encouraged diversity in menswear. However in England we are still far behind, only accepting certain styles on homosexual or feminine looking males. In Asia, men are more experimental with their clothes, often fashioning elaborate patterns and vibrant colours. In Australia, model Andrej Pejic is expressing the new agender style in the fashion world. He saunters down the catwalk in both mens and womenswear, and describes himself as ‘comfortable in his own skin.’ His confidence and tastes seem to be embraced and loved. I salute you Mr - or is it Ms Pejic. Even a few hundred miles North, the Scot’s wear kilts as a sign of cultural pride, yet in England the kilt is still frequently seen as ‘feminine’ and rarely worn as anything more than a joke at a black tie do. This got me to thinking: Is the acceptance of individuality down to one's look, culture, upbringing, experiences? Or something else?

Studies show that the majority of people feel you have to be confident to pull off extravagant clothes. Upon interviewing a variety of men it is evident that there is still a high amount of peer pressure on what ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ be worn by guys. 21 year old Fashion design student, Daniel Fradgley is expressive in the way in which he dresses. As I interview him he tells me that he is currently wearing girls shoes, is a fan of the kilt and often swaps T-shirts with his female friends. But this wasn’t always the case.
‘I used to reconsider what I wore, worrying about what others thought, until I went to London and realized, people can get away with anything, then I changed.’
10% of men said they wouldn’t buy a top unless their friend approved, yet over 50% of men stated they didn’t feel there was a diverse enough range of clothes for their sex. Daniel, like many other men, feels expression through fashion should be as important to males as it is to females.
‘Being male can be so many different things, its not just one stereotype it should be expressed in the way one dresses.’
One style can not be representative to so many people; strong, shy, intelligent, witty. With the current range of menswear styles available, it is impossible for men to express themselves to the same extent in which women do, and after all first impressions do count! How are we girls supposed to find love at first sight, when the only clue we are given is through the colour of his jeans and fit of his T-shirt??? As a designer, Daniel felt
‘Men in general do want diversity but aren’t always aware that there is a lack of it. High end designers are pushing the boundaries but have to filter down their ideas, to what the consumer would realistically buy’ .
It appears men have been stuck in the same catch twenty-two for decades. However the epiphany is close!

Designers such as Gareth Pugh are taking the firsts steps in diversifying menswear ranges to the same extent as women's wear, designing collections that can not be exclusively labelled as mens or womenswear and sending an increasing number of unisex looks down the catwalk. High street stores are quick to join in on the emerging market with companies such as American Apparel offering a surprisingly unisex product range. Men have more choices on the high street than ever before. In the last few years London Fashion Week has allotted Menswear three days instead of just one. The option for more experimental menswear in the fashion industry is suddenly looking possible. By 2014 the market for menswear is expected to expand by over 14%. The start of a revolution appears finally to have arrived. A hundred years ago it would have been impossible to envisage that women's fashion would ever develop to the diverse and expressive level it is currently at. This too could happen for menswear. The next generation of men are likely to be giving female fashionistas a run for their money. There is certainly something endearing about the idea of a man that doesn’t hide behind the forced semantic code of masculinity. So come on lads! Put on your confidence, apply your courage and go and grab a pair of heels!

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