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International fashion runways are breaking gender stereotypes. Will India follow suit?

brunch Updated: Oct 01, 2016 20:20 IST
By Samreen Tungekar
By Samreen Tungekar
Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Female models sport the androgynous look on the ramp in gender neutral clothing by Ralph Lauren, at the just concluded New York Fashion Week.(Getty Images)

Run like a girl”, “talk like a boy” are ideas that are now being questioned as we blur lines between gender stereotypes and try not to bracket people under old school definitions. Which brings us to androgyny, a style statement that not only removes the ‘for him/ for her’ concept of clothing, but also opens up the whole idea of individuality by giving us the option to choose what we want to be.

Androgyny, simply put, is dressing without gender rules. Broadly, this means male clothes on a female body and vice versa. The idea is not new: women have been interested in menswear for years. But the more it appears on the fashion ramps, the greater becomes the discussion about androgyny as cultural evolution rather than a mere fashion trend. Ralph Lauren’s brown ensemble at the New York Fashion Week this February, and the chic Victoria Beckham stepping out in a masculine white shirt with black pants and no heels, are classic examples of how the fashion world is breaking gender stereotypes and going neutral.

“Androgyny is not about sexuality or gender, but more about individualistic expression,” says Marvin D’souza, a fashion consultant and writer. “It’s an asexual theme. Because it is not a conventional idea, the trend will evolve at its own pace in India, but it will evolve.”

Also read: The story of how a Men’s Health cover model turned into a stunning diva

Model and actress Elena Fernandes, effortlessly androgynous herself, agrees. “The level of professionalism as well as cultural awareness about what is happening in the industry internationally has increased. India is looking for that something different, something that doesn’t conform to norms, and that is what being androgynous is all about.”

It’s going to take time to really make its mark in India, though, says fashion designer Amy Billimoria, who points to the country’s highly changeable attitude to all that comes from the West. “I don’t see big stores coming up with gender neutral clothes here for a very long time,” she says. But that may not necessarily show a lack of interest in the big trend. It may also have to do with the customers. “You need to accept the look to wear it,” explains Billimoria. “The attitude and psyche are very important. You need to have a strong personality to be able to pull it off. Androgyny requires freedom of mind. There are definitely people in India who are doing it, but they are more of the younger generation.”

For women, the androgynous look calls for sharp features – the girl next door could never get away with gender-neutral clothes, says Fernandes. Model Jaspal Kaur agrees. “This is in nowadays, and I like the trend myself. But a sweet-looking girl may not be able to pull off a masculine suit, so features play an important role.”

What does androgynous style mean for men, though? Mainly florals, says Kaur. Not to mention an extra skinny look that model-turned-fashion choreographer Achla Sachdev does not think works for Indian men.

“To each their own, but I personally don’t prefer the skinny, thin look,” says Sachdev. “Skinny may be in in the West, it suits them. But it does not suit Indian men.”

Actor Ranveer Singh might be able to carry the jacket and skirt look, but not everyone. (Getty Images)

Some men may be able to carry it off, Sachdev acknowledges, noting actor Ranveer Singh’s jacket and skirt look, but not everyone. “Ranveer pulled it off, but did you see anyone else try it? No. Because one in a 100 might look good in it,” she says.

Meanwhile, swimwear designer Nidhi Munim makes an important point about the androgynous look. It won’t work well, she says, unless it’s made far more accessible than it is now. “I think we need to have a more neutral size chart to make it more accessible,” Munim says. “It is a gap that needs to be closed.”

From HT Brunch, October 2, 2016

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