androgynous/unisex look

androgynous/unisex look
   Androgynous looks have been produced under the various influences of politics, subcultures and musical styles. For men, embracing an androgynous style has meant the adoption of a decorative and sexualized style of clothing. Ironically, for women it has often involved the opposite, a desexualization and simplification of dress styles.
   Music-related subcultures have had a major influence on men’s embrace of unisex styles. Swinging London and psychedelic styles, emerging in 1967 and 1968 from the mod look, took up bright colours and Op art designs in vivid and decorative clothing worn by men and women alike. The hippie subculture of the late 1960s and early 1970s allowed men to wear long hair, beads and headbands, a shift in style that was interpreted by contemporary commentators as accompanying a gentler style of masculinity and a more liberal approach to diverse sexual practices. British glam rock took this emphasis on androgynous, sexualized style to a new limit in the early 1970s, with Marc Bolan and David Bowie adopting the glam personae of the Cosmic Crusader and Ziggy Stardust/Aladdin Sane, respectively. These characters from a genderless future emerged in prosperous circles in London, in contrast to the black funk style appearing simultaneously in the USA. Some new romantics of the early 1980s, especially Duran Duran, ABC and Culture Club, took up similar glamorous, androgynous male styles. Figures like Boy George showed the influence that gay subcultures had on these music-related styles, as does the origins of the word ‘punk’ as a term for a homosexual lover. Musical trends also had an influence on women’s adoption of androgynous styles. Jeans and t-shirts as unisex wear were popularized by the hippies and the mods, while jeans and dungarees were also embraced by the women’s movement as comfortable, relatively unrestrictive clothing. Punk, too, offered a less feminine dress style for women, which has been more recently adapted by the Riot Grrrls. However, only in the 1980s did mainstream female musicians offer exemplars for androgynous style.
   Grace Jones, who went on to appear in the Bond film A View to a Kill in the mid-1980s, adopted a punk-glam look of short sculptured hair and masculine tailoring. Jones’s image showed the influence of high fashion through her collaboration with Jean-Paul Goude. Annie Lennox’s adoption of the male suit in the earlier part of her career was a way of symbolizing control over her musical identity, and the adoption of the suit as a way of demonstrating a non-sexualized competence has persisted throughout the 1980s.
   The women’s movement, gay subcultures, lesbian ‘butch’ styles and peacenik hippie politics have all had an impact on androgynous styles. Nonetheless, there is considerable debate as to whether the popularity of unisex dress styles is connected to a liberalization of the distinction between genders or transformations in attitudes to gay and lesbian sexuality.
   See also: bisexuality; ‘gender benders’; transsexuals
   Further reading
    Garber, M. (1992) Vested Interests: Crossdressing and Cultural Anxiety, New York: Routledge
    Polhemus, T. (1994) Streetstyle: From Sidewalk toCatwalk, London: Thames & Hudson.

Encyclopedia of contemporary British culture . . 2014.

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