Dude Looks Like a Lady: Why Androgyny in Fashion is a Good Thing

By Alexandra Pauly

Silky hair, slim jaw line, and a bee-stung pout: you’ve probably opened the latest issue of Vogue only to find the airbrushed face of a wide-eyed model staring back at you. But the pretty girl you are admiring may actually be a boy. Gender non-conformity is a controversial, often stigmatized topic. Even so, the fashion industry is embracing cross-dressing and androgyny, blurring the lines between male and female. Boys who look like girls and girls who look like boys are the next big thing.

When Bosnian-Australian model Andrej Pejic was first scouted, he was mistaken for a girl. Still, he signed with Chadwick Models and made his runway debut at the Paris menswear shows in June 2010. His long blonde hair and delicate features had casting directors, modeling agencies, and designers alike wondering why a woman was walking men’s shows. Despite his ambiguous looks, Pejic is ranked #11 on models.com’s list of Top 50 Men. He books editorials for the likes of Vogue Paris, i-D and L’Officiel. He is also a favorite of French designer Jean Paul Gaultier, who cast Pejic for both his women’s and menswear runway shows—Gaultier even designed an entire collection inspired by him, dubbing it “James Blonde” in a news feature on Pejic that aired in Australia. Though Pejic’s looks are extreme, there is a host of other successful male models known for their androgynous (albeit subtle, at least compared to Pejic) features: Tomek Szczukiecki, Marcel Castenmiller, Ethan James and Thomas Penfound are each ranked alongside Pejic as one of the fashion industry’s Top 50 Men. There are also a number of androgynous female models: Freja Beja Erichsen, Eliza Cummings, Agyness Deyn and Stella Tennant are a few of the most successful. Erichsen, Cummings, and Deyn are both Top 50 women, while Tennant holds #9 on a list of Top Icons. Even transsexual models are introducing themselves to the fashion industry—you may have heard of Lea T, born Leandro Cerezo, now a female model serving as a muse for Givenchy designer Riccardo Tisci.

Though androgyny is definitely experiencing a recent increase in popularity, this is not the first time it has been fashionable. Flappers from the 20s pushed the limits by cutting their hair short, reducing hemlines, ditching the corset, and openly discussing sexuality. A thin, boyish physique was also associated with the flapper image. Androgyny cropped up again during the 70s when David Bowie released Ziggy Stardust and wore makeup and bodysuits for concerts. 80s metal bands such as Motley Crue and Cinderella also touted an androgynous image with their teased hair, eyeliner, and platform boots.

Lea T.

The reason behind androgyny’s resurgence is unclear. Pejic joked in a recent interview, “in times of recession and economic collapse, I don’t think clients have much money to hire both men and women, so I’m really a good deal. Two for one!” A more logical explanation may be the increasing awareness and acceptance (though far from complete) that comes along with changing times. Current generations find it modern to disregard old-fashioned values and mindsets that would disapprove of cross-dressing and androgyny. However, there may not be any rationale for the newfound appeal of androgyny—basically, fashion is fashion. It is constantly changing; there is no reason behind it. And we all know there were some pretty illogical trends, from 90’s “heroin chic,” to moon boots and harem pants.

Unfortunately, opposition always accompanies increased acceptance. In May, FHM (For Him Magazine) released a list of the “100 Sexiest Women in the World.” The magazine mistakenly took Pejic for a woman and ranked him at #98, beating out Lady Gaga and Victoria’s Secret model Izabel Goulart. In response to the blunder, an FHM staffer wrote a derogatory article about Pejic and other “gender-bending” models:

Though his sexual identity is ambiguous, designers are hailing him as the next big thing. We think ‘thing’ is quite accurate…Andrej is considered in couture circles as the ‘perfect coat-hanger’ for high fashion garments, moving the industry on from hot girls who look dangerously boyish to just boys who look like girls. Having managed to get away with it in campaigns for Marc Jacobs and Jean Paul Gaultier, the blonde gender-bender has jumped the gun in hoping he might one day be signed as a Victoria’s Secret Model (Pass the sick bucket). Well, he might have a hard time keeping it a secret then. More troubling is the fact that Andrej is not the only one when it comes to supermodels that are not all what they seem. The current face of Givenchy and ‘lady’ locking lips with Kate Moss on the cover of Love magazine is transgender model Lea T, who began life as Leandro. One fashion trend we won’t be following.

The article, as well as Pejic’s ranking, generated much controversy after the press picked up on both. Most were disgusted by FHM’s comments; however, the fact that the article was written in the first place is proof that overall tolerance of gender non-conformists still has a long way to go. When a boy presents himself in way that is traditionally considered girly (i.e. wearing tight

Left to right: Freja Beha Erichsen, Eliza Cummings, Agyness Deyn, Stella Tennant.

clothes or eyeliner), others will stereotype him as “gay.” Even boys born with naturally feminine features are made fun of. This judgment goes the other way, too—when a girl dresses in a traditionally masculine way, others label her as lesbian. This lack of tolerance is the reason why androgyny in fashion is a good thing. The more cross-dressing and androgyny are celebrated in the fashion industry, the more people will accept it. That is not to say homophobia and the general fear of anything “different” will go away completely as long as the fashion industry promotes androgynous models—many consider fashion frivolous and unrealistic, a fantasy that cannot ultimately be obtained. Still, fashion sells, and millions of women around the world strive to emulate what they see in Vogue. So if androgynous models are often featured, and cross-dressing becomes commonplace in magazine editorials, others (hopefully including the man who wrote the FHM article) will realize that gender non-conformity is not something to discriminate against. After all, if fashion can make moon boots and harem pants popular, anything is possible.

Alexandra also has her own blog, La Fille in the NYC.

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7 Comments on “Dude Looks Like a Lady: Why Androgyny in Fashion is a Good Thing”

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  5. justsaying says:

    i agree with your closing statement…having more androgynous models may make the world more accustomed to them and maybe increase tolerance…i personally have no problem with a guy who looks like a girl and vice versa….i actually find it quite interesting that he can pass off as a woman really well….and he can make more money that way, well, good for him

    • Marlena says:

      Very thought-provoking.I think it’s hard for the fhsoian industry to make any move like this without it being considering a cynical one – I remember how opinion was divided about the promotion of certain black models to the exclusion of white ones. I suspect if the industry appeared to embrace a wider idea of beauty generally, then it would be regarded more optimistically…

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