published in ZOO Magazine No. 36, p. 104-105

In the world of menswear, the final castration has been repetitively proposed, attempted and is yet to be performed. Indefatigably, we are confronted with men in skirts or skirt-like derivatives. Still, it is consumed as a charmingly provocative but harmless proposal that does not ultimately demand or imply its actual realization. Editorial appeal is opposed to everyday relevance – and ‘feminine’ elements in menswear are consequently regarded as ironic or optional breakouts. In this context, ‘feminine’ means primarily designed for and established in women’s wardrobes, an adjective that will further reveal itself as descriptive but not necessarily obligatory. Fundamental for an exploration of ‘feminine’ versus ‘masculine’ codes in menswear is a rather subtle understanding: gender-negating concepts of clothing allow the transformation of one’s naturally-given sexuality through subtle nuances into new forms and identities.

As a consequence, the combination of ‘female’ and ‘masculine’ results in a spectrum of ‘fashionable moods’. By re-using and re-contextualizing given principles, the male individual evokes different feelings. He is not dressing for appearance or status; instead, he is dressing for emotions. Once examining current tendencies and the most recent collections, the male image is wafting between two extremes: brutal masculinity and nonchalant romanticism.

What causally constitutes and hence enforces the possibility of men to express their emotions is the simple acceptance of emotions as such. They do exist and they can be expressed. Not only through facial expressions but subtle signals that are displayed by the choice of garments, the cut and shape of clothing. By choosing feminine elements, the silhouette becomes a substitute for tears, a mere representation of ‘his’ ability to cry. This new option liberates men from showing their sentimental side too bluntly.

It’s a theory Rei Kawakubo evidently agrees on. Her Comme des garçons Homme Plus collection includes coats that are cut like robes, tightly cinched at the waist and loosely wafting around the knee. At first glance, we are confronted with the irritation of a female figure. After few seconds, the interpretation of a seemingly ‘transgender’ garment rapidly dissolves into the reality of a classic and well-cut coat. By adding such miniature ‘female’ alterations to the garment, Kawakubo emphasizes the ‘Homme Plus’ aspect of her menswear collection. In her world, ‘Homme Plus’ means added masculinity through added femininity. A similar approach towards gender’s tender decontextualization is expressed through the introduction of wide shorts that create a trompe l’œil skirt effect. Here, the exuberant use of fabric creates a three-dimensional, layered garment that remains masculine in its construction but feminine and soft in its final shape. Due to its hybrid character, the garment impedes gender identification: it is neither mal, nor female. Consequently, the wearer’s sexual identity is neutralized.

In a further act of distinction, Jil Sander pairs the ‘skirt shorts’ with a white dress shirt, completed with neatly buttoned cardigans or sleek suit jackets. By doing so, she refers to established, almost conservative, icons of the classical male wardrobe and thus reassures the ‘male’ aspect of her proposal for a contemporary uniform. Her comeback collection introduces a ‘new suit’ for the ‘new (fear)male’ – a man with a sense for poetry and contemplation.

This idea of a sensitive (fear)male is further propelled by the transgressive proposal of the men’s bra – as introduced by Romain Kremer for the power dressing empire of Mugler. It’s a collection motivated by the conviction that female codes in menswear are not only limited to dress or skirt shapes. Today’s man radically borrows and transforms established icons of femininity. Instead of focusing on an area below the waist, Kremer draws attention to the muscle-defined male torso.
Thin straps and triangle bandeau tops simultaneously cover and reveal the male chest. Bare skin comes into primary focus, staging men as objects of (sexual) admiration. While the archetype ‘bikini woman’ evokes memories of rural beaches and exotic dancing, the men’s bra places emphasis on a moment of futuristic space wars. An icon for male survival and an approaching apocalypse. While creating an almost destructive and asexual image, the untouched paradise becomes a destroyed world where codes are strategically reversed and reintroduced in a new context. This world is known as the world of fashion.

But the world of fashion is bipolar and gender’s decontextualization is not always tender. The poet who chooses small feminine details to express his sensibility is confronted with the rise of a new butch who uses the most direct feminine codes as a forceful tool to express emotions like volition, determination and respect. He is straight, ‘straightforwardly’ straight.

Broad shoulders, a muscle-packed torso, tanned skin, strong jawline, an aggressive attitude... attributes that describe the archetype version of manhood. A hunter and protector who is defined by testosterone and adrenaline. Suddenly, these creatures, these almost mythological beasts, appear in knee-length, pleated skirts. An idea that, contrary to our expectations, underlines the fearlessness and harshness of its wearer instead of outing ‘him’ as a weak, soft-hearted mind. The skirt introduces an anti- logic. Its appearance is not registered ‘female’ at all. Just like an optical illusion, the original feminine garment tricks the beholder’s eye and perception. It seems the codes of dressing are not finite. A skirt is not a skirt. Worn by a woman, a skirt remains a skirt. Worn by the new butch, a skirt becomes a loincloth – the symbol of tribes, raw nature and endless wars. In the same way as the men’s skirt evokes images of bawling men fighting in an ancient battle of ideologies, it also questions our own ideology of dressing. And demonstrates that a garment is always more than its definition; it becomes what the wearer wants it to be.

In our fictive gender war, Riccardo Tisci’s tribe joins forces with Rick Owens’ ethereal priests. Owens extends the radicalism of feminine codes into the dimension of historic mysticism. His concept of masculinity presents men in floor-length pencil robes. The dress is not regarded as a decorative, figure- hugging artifact of feminine seduction; instead, the robe refers to symbols of power and leadership. Its use refers to ancient historic cultures and the dress codes of emperors. The robe signalizes that ‘he’ is an owner of truth, a voice to be heard and to be followed. Thus, the men’s dress underlines the iconization of its wearer instead of negating his powers. By choosing the anti-masculine, the principle of castration is being reversed.

While the new butch succeeds in his fight against predetermined gender, it does not happen without consequences. Yohji Yamamoto’s men wear the most delicate and rich silk skorts, but after carefully inspecting the wearer’s face, one becomes aware of the fact that this man is beaten. Scars, scratches and traces of blood mark his physiognomy - demonstrations of survival and a materialization of masculine clichés. The overall message is a message of duality: A real man is facing real opponents. While we are unsure of the individual conflict, motives and past, the clothes clearly proclaim the conquest of the opposite sex. As a result, fashion’s castration is not an abstract or temporary proposal; it is a man-made choice. And this choice is demanding sacrifices.