As an aficionado of fashion history, I’m well aware that for centuries, men wore many of the accoutrements that characterized women’s clothes. Long dress-like clothes, stockings, high heels, bows, long curly hair were de rigeur for the well-to-do, with Louis XIV exemplifying so many of these trends:
Of course, while this type of male attire shared some commonalities with women’s clothing (wigs, heels, bows), women still looked quite distinct. You pretty much couldn’t confuse the one for the other:
Nor were you meant to confuse them. While fashion may have shared some commonalities, the boundaries between the sexes were rigid. Men were men, and women were women, and nobody was supposed to get the two confused, high heels and wigs notwithstanding.
The similar themes in dress continued right through the French Revolution, with men sporting florid clothes, consisting of long flowered jackets, corsets, high heels, elaborate wigs, etc. But they still distinguished themselves from women.
Beginning with the French Revolution, there was a slow change as man carved out a style of dress that was entirely distinct from the type of clothes women wore. By the mid-Victorian era, men’s dress had settled into the format we still recognize: flat shoes, long trousers, dark colors, etc. The cut may be funny, but the manly style we know well is unmistakable.
Now, two hundred years after we’ve gotten used to manly dressing that is characterized by its being entirely distinct from women’s dressing, all that seems about to change. The newest trend, as the NYTimes breathlessly reports, is for men simply to wear women’s clothes — and, we are assured, this isn’t mere cross-dressing by transvestites:
The look, to be clear, is not at all about cross-dressing. It’s men dressing mostly like men but with accessories and the odd (Prada lace) halter from the women’s department. It’s so genius that it makes you wonder why every guy doesn’t do this. It also makes me think I am getting sartorially lazy; it’s time to step up the game.
That may be true, but if you check out the pictures, it still looks like transvestites to me. The men in the photos make Marilyn Monroe look butch.
As someone who practically doesn’t own a dress, and lives her life in jeans and sweats, I’m probably not in a very good position to quibble about men borrowing clothes from my (theoretical) repetoire. Nevertheless, the cultural conservative in me finds the images in that article deeply disturbing, and yet another sign of the speed of light transformation our society is going through, from a traditional society with clear male-female boundaries, to one that doesn’t seem to have any boundaries at all.