Masculin et féminin: The new fashion grammar

In high school and college, I studied French. I think I was under the misapprehension that I would be moving to France sometime in the near future, or at least Quebec. No matter that both my grandparents spoke Spanish as well as English, and I could have practiced español on the bus, at my friends’ houses, and, well, everywhere else. I ruined my perfect schoolgirl Spanish by taking French, and now I am ignorant in both languages.

The one thing I absorbed was the weird (to me) articles that denoted the masculine and the feminine. Le, la, les and l-apostrophe tell you the gender of the object/person/place in question. Some applications of the French “the” make perfect sense, while others are utterly screwball. Fashion has been going in a similar direction for quite some time; the masculine and the feminine have not merely reversed, as we saw in the latter 20th century — gendered clothing has become obsolete. 

Do not raise an eyebrow at me. This movement has been in the air for quite some time. We will. Get through it. Together.

A condensed 20th-century lineage of styles that have led us to the now:  glam rock and “new romanticism” begat hair metal and gothic, the natural precursors to all that chipped black/blue/green nail polish that seemed to be on every trendy male hand three years ago.

Annie Hall spawned a rash of horrid vest-wearing in the late ’80s that slid directly into the early ’90s, wherein the unnaturally thin Kate Moss swapped out the vest for skinny, fitted T-shirts, vaguely manly layers, and thick-soled shoes, parts of which started showing up on the fashion-illiterate Mischa Barton 12 years after style-savant Moss arrived on the scene — in that brief period when Vogue staffers thought Barton would be the next It-girl. (She wasn’t.)

No crystal ball was needed to figure out that gender-neutral clothing accessories were coming to the fore for the 20-something set during the last five years.  The 30-and-ups have been told, in no uncertain terms, to Dress Like Ladies and Gents, which will stick for about one more spring season (thank you, Mad Men). As of next fall, the rest of us grownups will be told to loosen up, start wearing Palestinian scarves and chunky or filligree rings, pants with a difficult drape-and-taper, and tweedy hats. The ankle boots wait patiently on department-store shelves, soon to be alongside a crazy array of spectators, oxfords, and creepers. Short, frothy haircuts for men and women are in the works (like young model Agyness Deyn, only tamer). 

New York’s Misshapes, the fashion-music empire started by three DJs in 2002, just released a book of fashion portraits taken during the last six years. Men’s designer Hedi Slimane clothes are collected by well-off 20-somethings, best highlighted by the underfed bodies so reminiscent of 1990s heroin chic.

Now, before everyone starts trying to figure out how to work this “new look” into a wardrobe worn thin by the beginnings of a nasty recession and a few anemic fashion seasons that appealed to no one, let’s review the basic facts that every style-smart person must remember during this radical fashion shift: 

Only the very young, the very strange, and the unconventionally thin will be able to pull off this look head-to-toe, which they have been doing for eight seasons now. Pictures are available on Google. It is that entrenched.

If you are not the very young, you have the luxury of picking what you like from these trends, and ignoring the rest. Or, you can do what I often end up doing: ignore all of it, and focus on your own fashion obsession of the moment.

If you really, really hate the new androgyny, yet feel the need to occasionally appear on-target, invest in a well-made, tailored hat for the fall season, preferably in a brown or gray patterned weave. A cashmere scarf in camel or dark cement tones will finish it off.

For those of you who have already peppered your wardrobe with this look to the point of being a little tired of it, I say focus your energies on adding fine fabrics and textures, and save your money for investment accessories, such as rings and scarves that you will love for many years.

And while we are on that subject, the 1990s remixed and redone are on their way, seen most recently in all of that tight Lycra-blend, and tube dresses galore. I see new supermodels galloping in the distance, like the riders of a fashion apocalypse, ready to sweep us all up — and into the next decade.


Rock Paper Scissors, a favorite, but by no means solo, SA arts-and-crafts collective, is opening a public “clubhouse” at 716 S. Alamo. Hours will be limited to First Fridays, special events, and weekends at first, but you can always make an appointment to purchase fabulous handmade fashions and home accoutrements by, i.e. Rhonda Kuhlman, Jane Bishop, and Paula Cox; call Jane at (210) 262-6698. Put the Grand Opening, 5:30-9 p.m. Thursday, February 5, on your calendar. And look for Leigh Baldwin’s profile of the new shop in next week’s issue of the Current.

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