Man, I feel like a woman!
Pink is for girls, blue is for boys. This is where the narrative for gender identity begins. Wrapped in a colour specific blanket, the newborn is welcomed to a world where a gender stereotype is ready for them.
So, when iconic designer Gaurav Gupta opened FDCI’s India Couture Week this month with an inclusive show titled Name is Love that incorporated people of all genders, body types and sexualities walking in his trademark sculptured silhouettes, it brought the focus to the fact that fashion has no gender and love has no gender.
Personally, I don’t fit the standard sizes for menswear. And as much as I love neutrals, I don’t fear colour or prints. So quite naturally, it becomes easier to shop in the women’s section for better fit. But every time I rummage through the racks in a store, a polite store executive walks up to me and says, “Sir, the men’s section is that way.”
To bring to light that gender neutrality in fashion isn’t an alien idea, I picked six different outfits by six friends who have cracked the concept. Take a look.
Sumiran Kabir Sharma, creative director of the non-binary label, Anaam, has fearlessly worn what may conventionally be perceived as womenswear. This confidence in himself sparks a reaction that says, “Why can’t men wear sheer?”
“I believe in the connection between the artist and his art. When I was in design school, I used my body as a canvas instead of a mannequin. But this actually started in my childhood, when I started exploring neutrality by trying my sister’s clothes or draping table cloths and curtains over myself. My label started very clearly as a movement, not as a business. I’m glad that non-binary fashion has made a noise but it still reaches a niche market. To create a more sustainable impact, gender studies need to be actively introduced in schools,” he says.
My true confession: Earlier this year, I wore a sheer jacket but over a fitted black tee because I wasn’t fit enough. This gave me an incentive to workout so I can wear just the sheer without fear!
Marilyn Monroe moment for men
Siddharta Tytler recently shot his campaign with male models in skirts. “They were on the fence when they saw the outfits, but once they wore the skirts, they were twirling all over the place!” he says about the models. “Today, men wear kilts with fitted jeans under them and closer home, the lungi is a pallu-less sari or a wraparound skirt in a way.”
“Today, if a man wears a suit and teams it with a pussy bow, for me that is progress towards neutrality. In the last few years, the lines are getting blurred and hopefully this trend is here to stay,” he says.
My true confession: The only time I’ve worn a skirt is probably as a contemporary dance costume as a performer with Shiamak Davar. While it may not have found its way into my wardrobe, I’ve seen some men who are inspiringly comfortable in them.
It ‘suits’ everyone
Suket Dhir, whose design aesthetic defines the subtlety of Indian culture, gives a nod to the pantsuit and blazer. “They are a hundred per cent neutral. Men and women both look amazing in them; in fact, women look even better!” he says.
“I believe in the concept that the individual is a sovereign. The only thing we have control over is our own body and mind and that too in the now. For me, it is not about gender or sexuality, it’s about an individual.”
His journey towards incorporating neutrality in his collection began at home. “My wife starting taking clothes from my wardrobe and that got me thinking, why don’t I make them in women’s sizes? While the label is clearly menswear, it can easily be adapted for women. Fashion isn’t about segregation, it’s about beautiful clothes for beautiful people.”
My true confession: I’ve never been able to walk into a store and find a suit my size. So, I go to the women’s section and buy an oversized blazer and getcustom-made trousers!
Take the plunge
For singer, performer and iconic drag queen Sushant Divgikr, deep necks and plunging necklines are for everyone. “Not only in the entertainment industry, but everywhere.” Men with great bodies drop a couple of buttons on their shirt or even wear a deep V-neck tee, so this does fall under the purview of fluid fashion
“Millennials have a stronger world view with easier access to information. Closer home, gender neutrality has been part of our culture forever; just revisit our scriptures to understand the acceptance of fluidity,” he says. “No one has the right to tell you what you must wear. Of course, there needs to be public decency but beyond that personal expression is subject to interpretation.”
My true confession: I’ve seen gym-fit boys wear “cleave showing” tees with absolute ease. So, I adapted my own version of a V-neck oversized shirts that work very well!
The whole nine yards
Celebrity stylist Akshay Tyagi gives us a historical insight into the dhoti as “the most neutral piece of clothing that exists in India. Our fabric history started from there.”
“Till the 1980s, men were wearing crop tops and women were wearing oversized blazers. Then, through the ’90s and early 2000s, the concept of neutrality lost its identity. Over the last 10 years, people have wanted to embrace their individuality. The most noticeable change of this decade is that menswear has become fluid,” he says.
Does he feel that the barriers of gender specific shopping sections will break? “Currently, this may seem like wishful thinking. The sections are more about stocking and organisational convenience than anything else. But niche boutiques and designers are moving there, which does give us hope.”
Some of Akshay’s A-list clientele may or may not embrace non-binary fashion, he says. “If gender neutral clothing doesn’t resonate with their personality, it would come across as gimmicky.”
My true confession: As a child, I’d watch my mother dress and make my own sari with a dupatta. Though I may not wear a sari in its literal form now, I don’t shy away from using the yardage as a lungi or a dhoti.
A ‘cover up’
While most of what designer Urvashi Kaur makes is gender fluid, the concept of duality is visible in her campaigns. So any form of outerwear, whether jackets or dupattas, is for all genders.
“The concept of fluidity has been around since mythological times. Like most things, this idea of neutrality in terms of gender is also cyclical and has gone through a metamorphosis. Historically, we have had shared silhouettes, which over the years became more rigid. Deeper issues such as toxic masculinity and the suppression of women also found their manifestation in this segregation. We continue to rely on societal norms dictating how we dress, thereby limiting our perspective on gender fluid fashion,” she says.
My true confession: Whether it’s a pashmina or a cape, a trench or an overcoat, there is something for everyone. My wardrobe is packed with outerwear bought from around the world from every section!
Bharat Gupta is a fashion commentator, consultant and stylist
From HT Brunch, September 27, 2020
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