Saturday, 23 July 2011

Ad-dress-ing the clothing usurpation

Perusing the high street, the number of shops for women compared to those for men is alarming. Although Topshop, with its aptly named sidekick Topman, attempts to tackle the situation, it is fair to say that generally the weighting of the fashion world lies heavily with the female. Of course there is a commercially sound reason for this, yet part of me cannot help but feel sorry for the budding male shoppers in our midst.

Before the 20th century, the divide between male and female fashion was reasonably distinct. Yet as women increasingly took on the (often factory) jobs of fighting men during WWI, for many, trousers became a necessary garment.  Female clothing then increasingly encroached upon traditional male attire. Coco Chanel designed trousers for women stemming from her enjoyment of wearing her boyfriend’s suits. Diane Keaton’s high-waisted trouser, shirt, tie and jacket combo in Annie Hall has had a lasting influence upon many, including myself. Further still, numerous current fashion icons such as Alexa Chung or Agnes Deyn are known and celebrated for their androgynous image.

This seemingly, therefore, promotes equality between the sexes: ‘Hurrah for feminism!’ Yet in reality, a significant inequality exists. It is men who are limited by their choice of clothing; or rather, there is a choice, but for those who embrace it, in an ‘equal’ society, ridicule is so often the main response. David Beckham’s infamous sarong wearing antics of the mid 90s did not, as he perhaps may have hoped, begin a western revolution. Kilts, yes, are acceptable, but only within a very limited context. Day to day wearing down the local pub would most likely raise eyebrows, no matter how tasteful the tartan choice.

Where I take greatest issue is in the fact this inequality is now being cruelly flaunted before male eyes. A murky underworld of women resorting to wearing their boyfriend or husband’s clothes has long, long existed, yet in the last few years, such theft has been openly advertised to the world. With an influx of ‘boyfriend’ ranges of clothes for women, be they in the form of jeans, cardigans or blazers, it seems we quite literally have a clothing usurpation on our hands. As a female, I thoroughly enjoy such a look, but preferred it when we could authentically wear our boyfriends’ attire, yet remain sneaky about it. Now retailers have cottoned (ahem) on to such goings on and the secret is out.

The day we hear of the ‘girlfriend jumper’ will be a nationwide day of jubilation. (Note: The sinister connotations of the already existing ‘wife beater’ prevented any such celebrations.)  About its potential popularity and commercial success, I do wonder, but having the option would surely be nice? At least we can rest assured it would make a certain Monsieur Beckham a tiny bit smug.

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