As a quick followup to my last post, here are a few more articles about men, hair, and fashion that have given me pause to think about gender, presentation, and the fashion industry.
First up, a fashion spread from the June 2012 issue of F.O.D., an Israeli fashion and lifestyle magazine aimed at gay men in Tel Aviv.
(This image links to a post on the pictures at Pout Perfection, since I couldn’t find them elsewhere on the web)
Here we have more men with women’s hairstyles, this time presented in a more artistic, “editorial” style than the men in the previous posts. Where one can see the tongue-in-cheek humor approach to the first photo series (there are before and afters, campy poses, each style has a “cute” name, etc.), these photographs are presented with a straight face (pardon the terrible pun). The first article was men posing as part of a light-hearted thought experiment. These men are professional models (I assume). Moreover, while most of the men in the first group are looking directly at the viewer, the men in F.O.D. mostly have their gazes averted and not engaging with the viewer.
These photographs, from an article entitled “What a Piece of Work is Man” deliberately challenge traditional ideas about masculinity. With the sort of hair one usually sees on the pages of women’s Vogue, the men in the photos could be considered feminized. Their muscular and hairy bodies, however, clearly mark them as masculine. When one takes the magazine’s desired audience (gay men) into account, things become more complicated. Femininity and feminine signifiers have historically been used to insult men who are perceived as less-than-traditionally masculine, a population that often includes gay men. Can these images be read as an attempt to neutralize or even reclaim such language? Additionally, the gay community is often divided (albeit stereotypically) into large, hairy, muscular, “masculine” men (bears), and men who present themselves in less traditionally manly (and occasionally specifically female) ways (I’m not entirely sure what the preferred term is here).* These models seem to combine these two stereotypes into an individual. Could one choose to read this as a commentary on the divisions in gay culture? They were published in a June issue to coincide with Pride Month.
And of course, there is another factor. I found these images on a South African-based blog that, by all appearances, seems to be run by and aimed at cisgendered women. What do these images mean when viewed by straight women, rather than gay men? The male gaze has been dissected again and again by scholars. Here we have the male gaze turned upon male subjects, who become objects/products in a way that has traditionally been reserved for women (remember how their gazes are averted and they are posed in non-confrontational, “submissive” attitudes?). But what happens when women appropriate this image and deploy a “male gaze” of their own upon men? I honestly have no idea, but it’s interesting to think about.
Next up, via an old Jezebel column, an article on Andrej Pejic, an androgynous model who has been photographed in editorials, fashion shows, and photo campaigns for both men’s and women’s fashion. He** wore the final “bride” look in the 2011 Gaultier women’s couture show, a major coup for any model. In his own words, he says, “I guess professionally I’ve left my gender open to artistic interpretation.”
Also from the article: “’I don’t feel the need to explain myself,’ says Pejic, who has nicknamed his androgyny and its concomitant confusion ‘the situation,’ as in ‘they didn’t notice the situation’ or ‘the Japanese just loved the whole situation’ or ‘I like having a level of mystery to this whole situation.’”
Interestingly, Pejic’s looks were a problem when he first began modeling in Australia — he wasn’t burly enough for the Australian fashion market. He moved to London, and was found “too androgynous” for men’s modeling. He had better luck in continental Europe, where he first worked in men’s, than later women’s fashion after catching the eye of Carine Roitfeld, then the editor of Paris Vogue. His European success brought him a degree of fame in America, although he acknowledges that his look is too edgy to ever achieve “supermodel” status here. The globetrotting nature of Pejic’s career isn’t exactly unusual for a model, but I think it does say something that he found his initial success in European fashion — where gender-bending and androgyny have perhaps been more accepted by the fashion elite.
Androgyny has a long history in fashion, of course, as does cross-dressing and drag. But Pejic’s career seems to hint at something more. Androgyny isn’t just a career move for him, it’s a lifestyle — his everyday wardrobe blends men’s and women’s wear just as his work one does. Furthermore, his presence in women’s shows does not seem to be treated as a joke or a novelty — although it has become quite the fashion coup — he’s just one of the girls modeling the clothes. Unless they had a knowledge of currently working models, the casual observer of a fashion show would never know that they’re watching a man. And it’s accepted — by his family, his industry, and his fans — in a way that could not and would not have happened in a different time.
So there you have it — different ways for men to wear and interpret feminine fashion markers, with some very different meanings, intentions, and responses. This is something I find really fascinating, and hope to keep an eye on. What do you think about gender-bending, androgyny, and the fashion industry? (And bonus points to anyone who knows where the title of this post came from!)
*Roughly equivalent (I think) to the stereotypical divisions in lesbian culture between “butches” and “femmes.”
**Masculine pronouns are what Pejic prefers, so are what I have used here.