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103 Views - 12 Apr 2021

Brief history of Women and Androgynous Fashion

"I feel neither like a girl nor a boy, but I feel more seductive when I dress as a man."

Marlene Dietrich's words, one of the first divas in history to have shown off the androgynous style, are a strong testimony of this style's essence.
Although it is considered by some the starting point that will give life to unisex or fashionable agender (or genderless) trends, it differs for a whole series of historical and ideological characteristics.


Even though the term "Androgynous" has ancient origins, dating back to the myth of Aristophanes from the symposium, the style itself was born close to the 1920s, almost spontaneously, as a sort of women's rebellion against a misogynist, patriarchal society: let us remember that these are the years of women's claims and suffragettes who fought for a place as "citizens" in a world that did not recognize these rights.
These are the years of Louise Brooks, who wore male clothes in an uninhibited way on and off the screen, playing a lot on her sexual ambiguity.


Similarly, it was Marlene that gave an ideological imprint to this style, as it was not simply a drawing on the classic male wardrobe: the desire not to be obvious and conventional, but original and sensual in an entirely new way, that only a woman of her calibre could afford.
In biology, androgyny indicates the physical and behavioural characteristics of both sexes. Unlike the genderless trend and unisex clothing, it makes this style non-inclusive, extremely elitist.
It is a style that depends a lot on the physique du role, which in the theatrical and cinematographic fields indicates the physical coherence between the actress (or actor) and the role she must play.
The woman who decides to dress like this has slightly masculine features, a slender body with small breasts, almost the classical ballerina body. Moreover, as previously implied, this style is not meant to neglect the female sensuality; on the contrary, it's meant to enhance it.
Yves San Laurent himself, far from being an admirer of an undifferentiated sex fashion, adapted the previously designed men's models to Marlene. She was the only one, for aesthetic relevance, capable of bringing out the maximum femininity level.
There is a deep fracture with the genderless style, which tends to standardize (or include) the person who dresses it with no gender difference (therefore without sensualizing the model ). It's worth pointing out that these two styles are a century away from each other and that their historical and social characteristics are the reason for these inconsistencies. The few points in common are essential to understand that the androgynous style contributed to the genderless style's birth (and to the unisex style). Over time, the genderless one has dressed the androgynous one with a new ideology absent throughout the century.
Indeed, unlike contemporary style icons, and why not? Icons of the androgynous current, such as Tilda Swinton or Cate Blanchett, clothing divas like Judy Garland, Twiggy or Bianca Jagger did not have the same social impact they have now.

But what does the wardrobe of a woman who wants to recreate the androgynous style consist of?

  • It consists of the same things that concur to recreate an English gentleman's distinctive look; classic and elegant, masculine (?) and sober, refined and formal.
  • In this case, a "gentlewoman's" wardrobe cannot lack the classic grey or black trousers, a straight coat, a solid colour shirt, lace-up shoes and a waistcoat.
  • Typical, exclusively masculine accessories become essential, such as the tie or the bow tie, the suspenders or the Borsalino.
  • A purse, a briefcase, a suitcase or a men's bag are well suited and practical for career women.


Perhaps because of its elitist nature or maybe because it draws on a purely classic model: the androgynous style has never undergone significant variations. It has remained pretty much the same since the 1920s. However, there have been significant contributions, spontaneous or planned, by some great stylists, such as YSL, Armani, Channel, Hedi Slimane, Dior or Christian Lacroix. Over time, the androgynous style has developed a robust social component, defining what today is the genderless fashion and that branch of androgynous fashion that partly affects the male gender, that is, the "Dandy Style" (which we'll address separately).

To summarize, the feminine, androgynous style, although it has existed for almost a century, is at the same time current and unchangeable. It's current as it rests on solid foundations of men's clothing and new social changes. And it is immutable as it seeks refinement and elegance, exclusiveness and elitism since one can display it only by having that "physique du role" that is essential for its maximum aesthetic expression.


By Kaen Eugenio

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