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Dude looks likes a lady: the unisex trend blurring gender boundaries

A strange thing happened to me at the menswear shows in Paris this January. In the daydreaming time somewhere between browsing Instagram and waiting for the models to appear, I started mentally shopping for a new skirt. Not so weird (even for the dedicated trouser wearer that I am), given that I was surrounded by people wearing Very Nice Clothes. What was unusual was that I wanted a menswear skirt. Not just any men’s skirt, naturally. It was a sand-coloured one worn over army surplus-inspired ankle trousers by Dries Van Noten that convinced me I needed a knee-length hem. Immediately.

So what was it about the menswear skirts that won me over in the way that womenswear hasn’t been able to for several years? The answer is worthy of an eye roll, I know, but the truth is, the mood feels right. Because there is a unisex trend happening – at least in the upper echelons of fashion – that makes it feel as if gender is disappearing.

When new boy at Gucci Alessandro Michele sent out his models in chiffon and lace with long hair, there was already a framework in place.

It isn’t hard to find evidence of fashion melting gendered clothes into one wardrobe that appeals to both sexes. First up there’s Jonathan Anderson, a man who in real life likes to wear the (infinitely do-able) unisex uniform of crewneck jumper, mid-blue jeans and trainers. On the catwalk he has done more to blur the boundaries than any other designer. When he first started putting men in pussy-bow blouses, there was muttering about boundary pushing and it was dismissed as experimental London fashion by some factions. But his appointment to Loewe gave his point of view gravitas. So when new boy at Gucci Alessandro Michele sent out his models in chiffon and lace with long hair, there was already a framework in place.

One that Hedi Slimane has also helped to shape with his penchant for using skinny rock boys and girls wearing interchangeable rock’n’roll clothes and Cuban boots. At Givenchy, Riccardo Tisci showed knitted skirts styled over trousers. Meanwhile Mrs Prada – the living, breathing personification of the word zeitgeist – sent out invitations to view her new collections (notice the plural). She explained that she wanted to show fall menswear and pre-fall womenswear blended together as one because working on menswear always left her wondering how she could apply the same ideas to women.

Gucci show, Milan fashion week

Retailers are attempting to monetise the mood. Selfridges recently announced that it was getting rid of gendered floors and would just have three floors of fashion merchandised together so that customers could shop according to an expression of “self”. So high-minded, guys. And, alas, two weeks after I had berated the JW Anderson sales assistant for not stocking a blue and white striped menswear shirt I wanted badly on its womenswear rails.

Already advertising is doing its best to push this idea of gender-blending dressing. Cara Delevingne is photographed in a gang of boys wearing suits in the DKNY menswear 2015 campaign, while Julia Roberts in the Givenchy adverts makes the best case I’ve ever seen for gender-neutral tailoring.

On the Givenchy catwalk, Riccardo Tisci showed knitted skirts styled over trousers.

The question is not so much if we will be convinced into unisex dressing but why this is happening now. Culturally we’ve been here before. In no particular order we’ve had Tilda Swinton wearing androgynous suits, Bobby Gillespie wearing chiffon and a girly hair parting, Annie Hall and, of course, the maestro himself, David Bowie. My best guess is that the mood is informed by aesthetic rather than cultural or intellectual reasons (sorry, Selfridges). In recent seasons, there has been a gradual drift together for men’s and womenswear in terms of taste. Womenswear has lost its spiky edges, with trainers and Céline-esque trousers dominating. Equally menswear is busy getting its flounce on. This is perhaps the main point of the 2015 take on unisex – that menswear is becoming more feminine and not the other way around.

Dries Van Noten show

Fashion loves oddness, and it likes to shock. But the strange thing about seeing skirts live on the menswear catwalk (and you’ll have to trust me on this) was how manly they looked. This seems key to me if this trend is ever to take off. Beause much as I love hearing that my male comrades on the front row are sneaking into Zara to buy printed blouses, and I’m fantasising about menswear skirts, I think we all know that, despite the buzz, we are still quite a way from peak gender blur in the real world.

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