Gender bender: Do men really embrace androgyny?

  • Shweta Mehta Sen, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Feb 20, 2015 17:54 IST

Unisex, gender-neutral and androgynous are keywords you'll see a lot of designers using these days. Clothes that are supposedly meant for men as well as women are what a lot of collection notes claim, but how popular is this trend off the ramp?

Next month, British retailer, Selfridges, will introduce a range of gender-neutral clothing by Rad Hourani, Comme des Garçons, Gareth Pugh, among others. And while Gucci's recent show had women modelling some of the menswear, others like Prada, Dries van Noten and Valentino are also blurring the lines between silhouettes meant for one sex or another.

Globally, women have embraced androgyny- straight pants, tuxedos, bermudas and bowties are all part of their wardrobes- and they wear masculine garments with aplomb. But how many men are comfortable being seen in skirts, dresses, or flowy silhouettes?

Dhruv Kapur, designer in a self-designed tube dress (L), a Wendell Rodricks design (R)

Mental block
Designer Dhruv Kapur of the label DRVV, who has sent several men down the ramp in dresses, is among the minority. "I've only had one guy buy a dress from me. But if only more men would wear a skirt, and see how liberating it is, without letting societal opinion bother them, I'm sure they wouldn't go back to pants," he says.

In fact, Kapur terms the very existence of a distinction in male and female dressing as a "mental block". Ask him why most unisex clothes are easier for women to sport, and he says, "Men are brought up thinking they are better, and society validates it too. Women are taught the same thing, which is why they feel so powerful in men's clothes."

Western concept
Veteran designer Wendell Rodricks has a different take. He feels this theory applies only to western dressing. "When it comes to traditional outfits, Indian men and women share kurtas, lungis and dhotis with ease. They are comfortable in bright, draped shawls, and they even wear embroidered mojaris," he says, adding, "As a culture, we're also used to seeing men wear pearls and jewels for weddings. Western men would normally shy away from even a brooch, forget a necklace."

Colourful drapes by Krishna Mehta (L), a female model walks the ramp at a Gucci menswear fashion (R)

Stylist Niharika Khanna feels that the idea of Indian men in "effeminate" clothing is a far-fetched one. "Western ramps may showcase a lot of these styles, and the likes of Marc Jacobs may strut around in skirts, but not too many men abroad are that adventurous. Indians are even less likely to jump onto the bandwagon," she says.

Keeping up traditions
Stressing on the fact that unisex western clothing may not pick up with Indian men, Rodricks feels we must champion the androgyny of traditional clothing instead.

Designs by Rad Hourani, who will stock a gender neutral line at Selfridges soon

He says, "Look at Rajput men in earrings, Punjabi men in gold kada bangles, Keralite men in the mundu, and people from the north-east with their crossover dressing. We need to celebrate the unisex quality of Indian clothing."

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