Masculinity to androgyny: 100 years of men’s fashion

What defines men’s fashion today? Is it about comfort, confidence,sustainability or a personal signature?

Illustration: Manoj Singh Rana Illustration: Manoj Singh Rana

Meet the confident, modern man. He’s not afraid to express himself, experiment and is quite comfortable taking the backseat. It’s not about power dressing or fitting in clichéd ‘male’ roles, anymore. Rather, his fashion choices reflect his personality, attitude and aspirations. The last few decades bear witness to this evolution, where fashion has mirrored and even catalysed political, social, cultural and mindsets. And this new decade has set a tone for a future where gender roles will no longer be relevant.

With easy access to the internet and new technological changes, fashion is no longer an accessible luxury for a selected few. Rather, it’s a strong indicator of the trajectory taken by an individual, community, society and economy of a country. In today’s world of collapsing geographical and ideological boundaries and multiple discourses, fashion has emerged as a staunch anchor that is redefining human values, shedding protocol and encouraging a more truthful, self-expression that is genderless, fluid and human.

Fashion, Then

Men’s fashion has come a long way since the 1920s. In that period, masculine clothing was largely defined by power, formality and colours that symbolised the social mindset, hence it defined gender roles which were the key social features of the 1920s and therefore, the men were usually formally dressed in suits in restricted colours like black, grey, charcoal and similar sombre shades. Gender roles were clearly defined as men’s fashion was limited to trousers, three piece suits and shirts. Feminine fashion was restricted to dresses and skirts. 

Following the first and the second World Wars, with the role of women changing with them taking up jobs, emergence of the great workforce, fashion underwent another transformation. Changes in the economic forces in the 1940s too impacted how men dressed and chose their garments. 

Also read: Fleece, alpaca, merino, pashmina, vicuña — warmth and fashion go hand in hand

These Wars however, did not impact the creative aspects of fashion, but did usher ‘practicality’ in dressing both for the masculine and feminine manufacturing, selling and buying trends. Affordability of garments too was a significant factor. It’s no surprise then, that formal, classic and structured men’s dressing gave way more easy and ready-to-wear garments. The market also witnessed a wide variety of garments at a range of prices that aligned with every budget, expectation and aspiration. 

Emergence of feminism, hippie culture and the civil rights movement in the 1960s again impacted fashion. Jeans were perhaps the first garment in a long time that bridged the gap between masculine and feminine fashion. Of course, back in the Victorian era and Roman times, men wore skirts, but jeans as a ‘masculine fashion’ garment took society to a new level. They were widely accepted as symbols of freedom of expression, democracy, breaking of class barriers and more importantly, it was a big leap ahead. Therefore, ‘casual’ was the new formal for both men and women.  

Men’s Fashion: The Road Ahead —India & the World

While androgyny is setting the tone for fashion now and in the future, there is no doubt that fashion will continue to articulate and redefine itself through local, regional, national, political and multiple cultural identities. This has also emerged in the anthropological studies of fashion where different periods have mirrored the realities of those times.

For men today, fashion is not defined by trends, anymore. It’s about comfort, confidence, flexibility, sustainability and a personal signature. Globally, men have embraced everything from leopard prints, casual clothing, bright colours and more. Pink has emerged as a ‘personal style statement’ for masculine dressing. The choice of male fashion is not about fitting into traditional stereotypes, rather it’s about embracing one’s values, beliefs, orientation and sexuality, with social and cultural barriers falling.

In the Indian context men’s fashion has upped its game from traditional, athletic and formal choices to personal ones where men are not afraid to stand out and be different. Clearly, he is not afraid to experiment and makes no bones about his attitude. 

Dean at School of Fashion, Pearl Academy, Delhi, Italian fashion designer Grioli won the 2008 Award for Emerging Talent in Rome

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