Gender Ambiguity on The Runway 3 – The Return of the Runway

January 4, 2015

by Gracia Ventus
Rick Owens via The Rosenrot | For The Love of Avant-Garde Fashion

I don’t remember the last time I wrote about a trend analysis on this blog, partly because I don’t have the time to follow each micro trend, and mostly because everyone else has done a much better job at it. However there is an overarching trend which I feel very strongly about, and I thought it would be a good subject to explore for the beginning of 2015. Speaking of which, Happy New Year to one and all. I hope you’re leaving last year’s crap behind and looking forward to a better future ahead, whatever it may be. Chin up and march on.

The trend that I will be discussing on revolves around the topic of gender identity in fashion. In particular, I would like to highlight a new approach in gender ambiguity on the runway – for both men’s and women’s – that we are currently seeing in the last few seasons. And most importantly, I would like to emphasise that there is a distinction between the androgynous movement of the 20th century and the burgeoning trend that attempts to subvert the boundaries of gender binaries.


20th Century Androgyny
Yves Saint Laurent ‘Le Smoking’ Tuxedo

The 20th century saw the rise of pseudo-androgyny in which female fashion adopted masculine associations in dress. In the 1920s, the flapper look, also known as the ‘garconne’, rose in popularity in major European cities. Women donned short bobs, and flattened their feminine curves to attain the boyish body, which was a far cry from the Victorian corset-dependent look highly sought-after just years prior. Decades later in the 1980s, women joined the boardrooms and offices. However in order to be recognised as men’s equal, they had to borrow masculine gendered symbols from them, i.e., the suit (Steel & Kidwell, 1989).

Suiting and tailoring have always belonged in the realms of masculinity, right down to the discourse on the subject (Kaiser, 2012; Yamamoto, 2011; McDowell, 1914). Yves Saint Laurent was lauded for his pseudo-androgynous smoking suit – a three piece ensemble appropriated from men’s suiting cut to fit a woman’s body. Thierry Mugler and Giorgio Armani cemented the power shoulder trend for women while ironically making bodycon, overtly sexual mini dresses for the evening, further deceiving women that true equality with men could be achieved despite a one way flow of borrowing of gendered associations – i.e., from men’s to women’s (Paoletti & Kidwell, 1989; excerpt can be found here). When feminine symbols were borrowed, such as in the cases of David Bowie and Prince, men’s masculinity and sexuality were simultaneously questioned, hence they were never widely accepted (Paoletty & Kidwell, 1989, excerpt here). It is no wonder that Enwistle (2000, pg. 169) and Paoletty & Kidwell (1989), believed that the androgynous fashion movements in the 20th century had not abolished gender distinctions as they were only playing with the boundaries of gender.

Rick Owens FW2013
Rick Owens Fall/Winter 2014

Fast forward three decades, we are seeing a vastly different approach to androgynous fashion. Unlike their staid peers, some designers have marched beyond putting women in tailored men’s clothing or conventional sportswear borrowed from the men’s. Instead, they are taking bold steps to blur the boundaries of gender binary in dress, either by removing gender marking (Rad Hourani) or creating ambiguity that subvert traditional notions of masculinity and femininity in dress (e.g., Rick Owens, Thamanyah, Craig Green, Rei Kawakubo and Haider Ackermann). By doing that, these designers are attempting to address, and even equalise the power imbalance between genders, while at the same time adopting feminine symbols for menswear, hence reversing the direction of flow of borrowed symbols, i.e., from women’s to men’s.

While one can not be too certain of the underlying reasons for this trend, I can only surmise that it is correlated with the growing interest in feminism, especially through the new media, as well as the proliferation of Minimalism on and off the runway.

Acceptance of Feminism

“They embraced their softer side — feminine, by old cultural standards — without coming across as effeminate, which marks a quantum leap for culture. This is fashion for men rid of old insecurities about gender representation. What is taking shape is, in fact, not at all an idea of fey or gay masculinity — the influence of the gay aesthetic on the heterosexual world is firmly confined to the gym-buff, clone look — but the idea that delicacy and gentleness are qualities of contemporary men worth being considered as a sign of strength, not an expression of weakness. Which, if you like, is just another ambiguity.” – Angelo Flaccavento (2014)

As feminism begins to be widely accepted in recent decades, feminine-associated activities such as fashion – which in the last few centuries had been considered frivolous and beneath men (Radway, 1987) – is now being embraced by them. More men are actively searching and consuming fashion, and are also participating in the discourse, especially via online fashion forums which seem to be dominated by men of various age groups, as can be observed on StyleForum, StyleZeitgeist, SuperFuture, and most recently, Care-Tags. Technology, through blogs and social media, exacerbates the spread of images of men peacocking in the most lavish forms of dress while attending fashion and trade shows such as Pitti Uomo (Mellery-Pratt, 2014). Such images also introduce designers who break conventional boundaries to blasé consumers, exposing them to new approaches of fashion outside of the mainstream labels.

Jil Sander

Rise of Minimalism

It is widely believed that the most recent wave of Minimalism surfaced after the 2008 global recession, a period in which conspicuous consumption was frowned upon. Soon after, the fashion industry saw the prominent rise of Phoebe Philo and her definition of luxury – discreet yet edgy. Together with the appointment of Raf Simons – the champion of clean lines and stark silhouettes – to Dior, Minimalism became a long-term trend that has persisted to this day. One of the central tenets of Minimalism is anti-figurative forms. When applied in fashion, Minimalist dress removes the idea of a ‘figure’, negating markings of gender and sexuality frequently imbued in Western clothing. By doing so, designers can challenge conventional figurative silhouettes. Female clothing do not need to accentuate the curves while men see an increasing range of silhouettes tailored for the masculine body, previously unavailable to them, or used to be considered taboo because they were cut for the female body only. For more in-depth reading into Minimalism in fashion please refer to an older article here.

Having said that, at this point I should state explicitly the ways – there are three from my own observation – in which today’s androgyny differ from the 20th Century definition. As I have mentioned earlier, it’s no longer about women wearing suits or sportswear (which fashion journalism often reverts to), nor is it men wearing makeup and having fabulous hair.

Rad Hourani
Rad Hourani

Absence of Gender Marking

While there are indeed unisex clothing pieces in the market, such as the T-shirt, unisex aesthetic is almost always inconceivable. Designers such as Rad Hourani challenged this almost impossible task by producing collections seasons after seasons that can be shared between men and women – i.e., all the garments can be worn by both genders.

Rad Hourani
Rad Hourani

Unlike the conventional offerings of unisex clothing, which is men wearing men’s clothes and women wearing said men’s clothes to appear less feminine, his clothes de-emphasises biological differences between genders. And with the absence of gender markings, his clothes are devoid of sexuality. They are in fact almost clinical and reminiscent of cyborgs of the future.

In recent times, Rick Owens has been taking the same approach with his menswear and womenswear, making unisex garments albeit with a less linear approach, which can be seen in the beginning of this essay.

Hybridity of Masculinity and Femininity in Dress

Rick Owens Pod Shorts

The above photograph shows a pair of ‘Pod Shorts’, a garment designed by Rick Owens. It is a bifurcated covering for the lower torso, derived from the short trousers which historically have always had strong masculine connotations. However the crotch area has been pulled to the knee level, creating a skirt-like, feminine silhouette. The result is a hybrid bifurcated garment that has ambiguous gender associations.

Rick Owens Waterfall Cardigan

Soft and swaying silhouette goes against the very grain of strong and masculine modern menswear, Yet this waterfall cardigan has been made for men by various designers such as Rick Owens and Julius, and enthusiastically picked up by experimental audience. It is a garment that resembles Victorian-era robes worn by men in the privacy of their homes, but with oversized square panels that moves gracefully in motion – a characteristic usually associated with feminine womenswear.

Borrowing from Women

Male fashion is increasingly taking pointers from modern female clothing in terms of fabrication, silhouettes and colours. More designers are abandoning suitings and conventional menswear, instead preferring to explore new aesthetics by looking at and creating with what Euromodern cultures would deem as feminine elements, even if that was not the original intention of the designers. Often they are inspired by non-Western cultures which tend to have a less rigid dichotomy in dress.

Craig Green

For his Spring/Summer 2015 show, Craig Green showcased voluminous skirts and skirted trousers for men, cut for the masculine body while successfully avoiding sexuality-laden appearance of cross-dressing.

Rick Owens gown

Rick Owens showcased the same gown made for men and women. Rick Owens first introduced this dress on his Spring/Summer 2012 show, before releasing the same dress for women in 2014, thereby reversing the flow in which fashion innovation usually occur.


The unusual lengths of the garments in the photographs above from the label Thamanyah are most commonly found in Euromodern womenswear. However these garments were actually reworks of the kandoras donned by Middle Eastern men (Pfeiffer, 2012). By introducing them to the Western audience he attempts to shake up the masculine/feminine associations of modern dress.


Moving forward

Paoletti & Kidwell (1989) stated that truly androgynous dress will eliminate the disadvantages of feminine and masculine dress, while combining their advantage. At the time of writing, historical evidence points towards an acceptance for women to adopt masculine symbols, but not the other way round. Fortunately, the current crop of influential designers are slowly changing the way we view gender and sexuality in dress and the consumption of fashion.

Wilson (1985, pg. 228) postulates that fashion acts as a vehicle for fantasy. If that is true, perhaps the persistent trend of blurring and erasing gender boundaries represents a dream for a feminist utopia, in which people of all gender spectrums, social and cultural backgrounds are recognised for their differences but not treated differently.

( Leave a Comment )

Test Post for Subscription purposes

December 21, 2014

by Gracia Ventus

Comme des Garçons Paper Doll FW2012 | The Rosenrot | For The Love of Avant-Garde Fashion
Comme des Garçons Paper Doll FW2012 | The Rosenrot | For The Love of Avant-Garde FashionComme des Garçons Paper Doll FW2012 | The Rosenrot | For The Love of Avant-Garde Fashion
Comme des Garçons Paper Doll FW2012 | The Rosenrot | For The Love of Avant-Garde Fashion

Wearing: Comme des Garçons AW12 jacket and AQ/AQ maxi dress


Ma. A Japanese concept dating back to Confucianism, Taosim and Buddhism. To put it in the simplest terms, it means an interval or absence in time and space. The concept of Ma can be found in all aspects of Japanese lifestyle. For example, when a Japanese bows, a short pause is included at the end before getting back up in order to strengthen the impact of the bow with regards to giving respect to the other party (source). For a deeper explanation of the concept, please click here.

Yohji Yamamoto via The Rosenrot | For The Love of Avant-Garde Fashion

Rick Owens via The Rosenrot | For The Love of Avant-Garde Fashion

( Leave a Comment )

Comme des Garçons’s Paper Dolls

November 16, 2013

by Gracia Ventus

Comme des Garçons Paper Doll FW2012 | The Rosenrot | For The Love of Avant-Garde Fashion
Comme des Garçons Paper Doll FW2012 | The Rosenrot | For The Love of Avant-Garde FashionComme des Garçons Paper Doll FW2012 | The Rosenrot | For The Love of Avant-Garde Fashion
Comme des Garçons Paper Doll FW2012 | The Rosenrot | For The Love of Avant-Garde Fashion

Wearing: Comme des Garçons AW12 jacket and AQ/AQ maxi dress


Ma. A Japanese concept dating back to Confucianism, Taosim and Buddhism. To put it in the simplest terms, it means an interval or absence in time and space. The concept of Ma can be found in all aspects of Japanese lifestyle. For example, when a Japanese bows, a short pause is included at the end before getting back up in order to strengthen the impact of the bow with regards to giving respect to the other party (source). For a deeper explanation of the concept, please click here.

The Concept of Ma in Fashion

The central tenet of European couture is to give a three-dimentional form to fabric by using curved lines and darts. The Japanese, on the other hand, often begins with the concept of a kimono – an assemblage of rectangular pieces of fabric that lays flat when unworn. However, when put on the body they acquire a life of their own independent of the shape of the wearer to create space in between the body and clothing. This spatial concept of Ma is most visible in Comme des Garçon’s AW12 collection, in which the interplay of flatness and volume is exaggerated to comic proportions.

This exaggerated excess in negative space creates a powerful imagery to any observer. We are so ingrained in viewing clothes as body covering that accentuate our body shape (ie. hourglass figure for females, powerful upper torso for male), that to wear clothing that does otherwise seems counter-intuitive and to some extent even frowned upon. To the wearer who appreciates such design, however, it provides a respite from the mainstream ideals of beauty. Not only is it enticing visually, from the practical point of view the voluminous design is unrestrictive and hence comfortable. To both wearer and observer, it raises questions concerning the relationship between clothes and the human body. Of course, how much one wants to explore the subject rests on the individual’s willingness to open up his/her mind. Some people will snicker, others poke fun at you openly, and perhaps verbal abuse might ensue in the most conservative of societies. I very much doubt we will leave the current idealised aesthetics anytime soon, but the discourse for a wider definition of beauty has been opened up by Rei Kawakubo et al., the day they brought an outsider’s perspective to the stage of Western fashion more than thirty years ago. Black has become an acceptable colour to be worn head to toe thanks to them, and perhaps one day mainstream fashion will consider incorporating the concept of Ma, in that clothes can be more than just be enhancement of the human figure and that designers do not have to worry about the absence of sexual cues in a garment.


Comme des Garçons Paper Doll coats FW12 | The Rosenrot | For The Love of Avant-Garde Fashion
Comme des Garçons Paper Doll FW2012 | The Rosenrot | For The Love of Avant-Garde Fashion

(one comment)

In Search of Simplicity

November 10, 2013

by Gracia Ventus

As the cliché goes, there is beauty to be found in simplicity, whether it be Art, Mathematics or Physics. But the quest for the purest form of design is always overwrought with temptations to embellish with the unnecessary. Not saying that embellishments are bad, since they have their own merits. Often I found myself tempted to add another layer, then another, which works okay mind you. However it negates the purpose of achieving clearly defined, geometric silhouettes. Then again, if I were to compare my current sartorial choices to those of last year (feel free to check out the archives), I have distanced myself somewhat from bulky layers and heavy drapes, instead opting mostly for structured shapes, clean designs and blocks of colours. Even my makeup has gone from smokey to being cleaned up somewhat.


The Joy of A Y’s Suit

November 5, 2013

by Gracia Ventus

If there’s one thing Yohji Yamamoto has taught me, is that the rules for suiting which #classicmenswear are such sticklers for are all arbitrary. In accordance to the Japanese wabi-sabi philosophy, achieving the right ‘feeling’, even if imperfect, is more important than adhering to strict formulas. After all, the idea of a classic suit is a fallacy because what is deemed classy is a moving target, and one can easily date a suit according to lapel shape, shoulder width or length of jackets, etc.

I love tailored clothing, and I too am aware of some rules for suiting. One of the things I tend to keep in mind is that the sleeve length of the shirt is supposed to be half an inch longer than that of the jacket, that’s if the latter isn’t made extra long à la Ann Demeulemeester. Everything else is mostly ignored as long as I get the proportions right. I suppose it is part of the privilege of being a woman, in that we are given free reign to subvert menswear. The shoulders could be oversized, or the trousers could be high waisted and baggy. Hell I’ve even done a boot tuck, which I’m rather ashamed of now that I’ve looked at the photos because it ruins the smooth line of the trousers. Oh well, I’ll live and learn. Overall I’m very happy with this Y’s suit, even if it comes with a jacket whose length is rather tricky to work with, which was part of the reason why I chose to buy it in the first place as I wanted to experiment with proportions. The lightweight wool fabric is perfect for the tropical climate, and the cut of the trousers gives me plenty of room to play around with. This is also the reason why I barely wear skinny jeans. There’s so much more room for my legs to breathe in I don’t know why people put up with the stuffy, clingy drainpipes that suffocate the legs, especially in the way they often choke the crotch area. Fans of skinny jeans, I urge you to give loose trousers a try. They make a world of difference in terms of comfort and you may never look back since.


The Rosenrot 3.0

October 31, 2013

by Gracia Ventus

Wearing Limi Feu jacket, Haider Ackermann trousers and Damir Doma boots.


Good day ladies and gentlemen, I am finally back from a month-long absence with a new look for the site, the third iteration since the first time I started this blog five years ago. It was admittedly a very difficult process for someone who's quite technologically backwards like me. I mean, I know it was not going to be easy, but I certainly underestimated the level of complication way too far, mostly because the design and layout I had in mind was deceptively simple. For one, template developers doesn't seem to have the concept of Minimalism in their arsenal. Even the simplest layout has to be ripped apart to remove the unnecessary features. Coding aside, there was the problem of moving platform from blogger to wordpress, and from godaddy to a local hosting service. I can honestly say I hated blogger/google for making me run around in circles in the process of leaving them. They tried to make me stay with their slimy methods and barricades but thanks to my relentless young web designer I managed to get away. Ha hah!


Here are some changes which I'd like to highlight with regards to the new blog:


1. I have made a Facebook account here just in case you haven't seen it yet. It serves as another avenue for me to announce new blog updates, as well as a discussion space for anything related to fashion and the creative industry. Twitter is where I tend to post one-liners where I attempt to be, uh, funny. I did consider creating Tumblr too but as of right now I doubt I am able to keep up with another publishing platform. All inspirational images will go on my Pinterest. I wanted to create an Instagram account but my phone camera does not permit me to do so. As I have mentioned once on Twitter, potatoes take higher quality images compared to my iPhone 3Gs. When I get hold of something better (possibly soon!) I will create an Instagram account where I will enrich your lives with selfies and food photos and random artsy fartsy object arrangements. All Bloglovin' users can still follow my blog here, and RSS feed remains the same. All of these links are available at the bottom of the navigation bar on the left.


2. Because I have abandoned Blogger, readers who have been following my blog through Google Friend Connect/Blogger updates would unfortunately not be able to receive anymore updates through that channel. I would highly recommend either receiving updates through Twitter or Facebook. I used to do sporadic updates on Twitter but now I will do so on both channels whenever new posts are up. Terribly sorry about the inconvenience and I'd appreciate your understanding.


3. I've removed the nasty captcha for comments so please, go wild, but keep it classy yes :)


4. For maximum user experience, I would highly advise against browsing this site using Internet Explorer. I mean, come on, it's 2013.


Over the course of the next few days there will be some shaky minor issues that we're still trying to fix, but rest assured that business is back to normal on The Rosenrot. If you're experiencing any issues with any part of the site, please do not hesitate to let me know. I'd like to make sure you're having a good time on this space. Thank you for your patience and hope to see you around.