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Androgyny is the combination of "masculine" and "feminine" characteristics, making them into an ambiguous form. Androgyny in terms of clothing style may be expressed without regard to biological sex, gender identity, gender expression, or sexual identity.

History

Androgynous-based visual aesthetics, as in the explanation above, are a merging of female and male stereotypical styles.

As a style aesthetic, it has existed for a very long time, as far back as the late Victorian period which saw the rise of Dandies (a group of extraordinarily well-dressed men) and women like George Sand who preferred to wear men’s clothing (much like Marlene Dietrich later famously would on film).

Women found it easier to be accepted wearing “male” clothing, particularly when Levi’s began putting out jeans specifically for women in the 50s. This instantly broadened the ideas of women wearing men’s clothing beyond the fringe early feminism it had originated in.

In the late 60s, Dandism for men had a resurgence, incorporating in it what had become (but in the Victorian era, were not) stereotypically “feminine” styles such as ruffles, lace, velvet, and vibrant colors. Meanwhile, pantsuits were slowly being incorporated into women’s work wear.

By the early 70s, Britain had a wildly rebellious insurgence of young men who, influenced by neo-Dandism, went a step further to create Glam Rock. Men wore makeup and grew their hair long or teased it. They dressed in semi-dress-like (but still tailored to the male form) kimonos and tunics, a profusion of sequins and glitter, intricate bodysuits, items of jewelry (particularly bangles), and much more.

This aesthetic was almost completely dominated by both straight and gay men and very few women in the scene dressed this way (except the likes of Suzy Quatro). It wasn’t until the late 70s that women rediscovered androgyny again, both in Britain and around the world.

In America, a somewhat similar style was seen in 70s Disco, funk, and soul. Many of these typically male musicians adopted quasi-futuristic one-piece ensembles that glittered and shimmered as much as Glam Rock did. They weren’t known for wearing makeup, but did embrace jewelry and platform boots.

The American and British Punk and New Wave movements made it possible for women, regardless of whether straight or lesbian, to try more masculine clothing. Artists like Patti Smith, Joan Jett, and Siouxsie Sioux (in her earlier days) were some of the first women in these scenes to pioneer this.

By the 80s, women went a step further by cutting their hair short and decking themselves out in suits, with or without makeup (like Annie Lennox, Grace Jones, and Laurie Anderson). Early Post-Punk and Goth girls were much the same, adopting “masculine” items like leather jackets and short hair.

In Britain during this time, a scene developed out of the ashes of Glam Rock and inspired by David Bowie: New Romantic. Perhaps the only completely androgynous fashion scene, the adherents of this style were limitless in their expression regardless of their sexuality. Men could be more subtle and wear lipstick with vibrantly-colored suits (like Japan the Band and Duran Duran) or deck themselves out in more costume-esque, Rococopunk regalia (like Visage and Adam and the Ants).

Unlike in Glam Rock, women in the New Romantic and Synthpop scenes were seen to have the exact same freedom in their clothing as the men did. They could be subtle simply by cutting their hair into a spiky crop or by going all out and wearing a suit and tie.

American pop music also embraced this thanks to the work of Prince, who moved from wearing Speedos to purple glitter, lace, eyeliner, and platform boots. Even Michael Jackson began to be drawn into the lure of shimmer and ruffles. (This was likely the effect that the glamour of 70s Disco continued to have.)

The Deathrock and Goth scenes also showed a profusion of androgyny. Straight and gay men could (and in some clubs, still can) be seen in makeup, teased hair, fishnets, black beads, and even semi-deconstructed dresses (like Ollie Wisdom of Specimen or Rozz Williams of Christian Death). Women wore much the same kind of clothes and makeup, equally regardless of their sexuality.

Hair Metal was the last of the West’s truly androgynous scenes, which in itself was a visual hybrid of Metal and Glam Rock. The hair was typically long and heavily teased, smudged eyeliner was the main makeup, accessories such as bangles and layered necklaces was used, and these were contrasted with motorcycle leather and tight jeans.

As androgyny for men began to fade away in the West, it was adopted by Japan. Directly inspired by Deathrock, New Romantic, Hair Metal, and Synthpop’s stylistic freedom (as well as their homegrown Goth scene), they wore exaggerated, costume-esque clothing. This typically included ruffles, lace, beaded jackets, and a profusion of makeup with shockingly transformative effect.

Once again, this was a straight and gay men-dominated scene, and many women who came to Visual Kei soon gravitated towards Gothic Lolita (though to be fair, so did many of the men, such as Malice Mizer’s Mana).

J-Pop became a tamed version of this, influenced by the ever ambiguous Gakct’s leaving the Visual Kei scene. These men often dressed (and wore subtle makeup) to further resemble Shoujo manga’s softer take on “bishounen”, manga art of young men with effeminate faces and male bodies.

Much of modern bishounen art itself can be seen to have roots in New Romantic (thanks to the influence of Japan the Band and Duran Duran), Goth (artists like Bauhaus and Gene Loves Jezebel), and David Bowie himself, whether in his Glam Rock or Synthpop phases.

J-Pop’s influence spread to K-Pop, which openly adopted much of their clothing, hair styles, and (subtle) makeup. Khonmiman (or “flower boys”) became a revolutionary movement in South Korea that grew out of K-Pop’s influence and has given men in their country the freedom to wear makeup and androgynous (though not specifically traditionally “feminine”) clothing without censure.

Meanwhile, while in most of the West men are discouraged from androgyny (not realizing that it is very different from transvestism and drag), women in both the straight and gay communities have been free to dress in more traditionally “masculine” styles. This is not looked down upon and is in fact romanticized by the (equally harmful) stereotypes touting the superiority of Tomboys to so-called girly-girls.

It is also interesting to note that the most openly androgynous fashion movements have had very little to do with gender politics.

This was particularly seen in the early 80s, a rare time when both straight and gay individuals were able to express themselves without any necessary interest in social-political issues outside of their movement. New Romantics, Goths, and even the preceding Glam Rockers wore whatever they thought looked cool, regardless of societal norms or their own sexual preferences.

Fashion

Androgynous people dress or style themselves to look neither typically male nor female. The goal of dressing androgynously (on purpose) is to have an ambiguous gender appearance - where people don't automatically assume that you're male or female because it is difficult to know. This being said, biological sex does play a part in dressing androgynously - AFAB people dress typically more traditionally masculine and AMAB people typically dress more traditionally feminine. To reiterate, the androgynous aesthetic is not a gender identity, rather it is a form of dress.

It’s a hybrid style of traditionally masculine and feminine clothing, makeup, and hair. The point is not to look like the opposite gender but to merge qualities of both in the style. It isn’t completely either, and has a history of being worn by straight people just as often as those in the gay community. (It’s also worn around the world by people of every race, culture, and creed.)

Historically, both men and women have indulged in wearing makeup, dying their hair, accents like ruffles and puffed sleeves, accessories like bracelets and necklaces, short and long hair cuts, tights/hose, pastels and the color pink, wearing suits, and wearing tunics, robes kimonos, or kilts. In truth, fashion and style has been notoriously fickle for centuries.

Regardless, it’s important to remember that not everything is flattering to everyone in terms of clothing. Tailoring and accentuating the natural lines of the body is usually what makes an androgynous style that is well-balanced between genders.

(It’s also important to note that being LGBTQ is not necessary to wear androgynous clothing, hair, or makeup. It’s a movement without bounds in gender or sexuality.)

Some 'androgynous fashion staples' would be things such as

  • Loose, black, geometric clothing (these clothes' popularity has grown so much that it's sometimes labelled under the nu-goth aesthetic)
  • Kilts. Surprisingly, these were once very popular punk staples (for either straight or queer people)
  • Capes and hoods, particularity ones that can be worn in multiple different ways
  • Science fiction references are also very popular here, using things such as shiny fabrics and futuristic hairstyles and makeup looks
  • Men's watches - they're classy and, if you get the right type, they can look cyberpunk
  • Oxford shoes are very versatile and go with any outfit
  • Long skirts or skorts

Resources

External links to help get a better understanding of this aesthetic.

Communities

Vendors

Pinterest Boards

Playlists

Androgynous is not a music-based aesthetic, but there are plenty of artists and songs that include themes of androgyny.

Gallery

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