At the Berlin premiere of his 2022 film Bullet Train in July, Hollywood actor Brad Pitt stole the show as he came dressed in a brown linen kilt paired with a creased pink shirt. However, he received both flak and support for his choice of fashion. While some criticised the creased, untidy look, others praised him for wearing a skirt.
This was not the first time the two-time Academy Award winner was playing along the gendered lens of fashion. He was way ahead of his times, when in the 1990s, he made a case for androgynous fashion by posing in mini body-hugging dresses on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine—at a time when ‘androgynous’ was a term not even heard of too often.
In recent times, the flagbearers of androgynous styles—Ranveer Singh, Jim Sarbh, Ayushmann Khurrana, Harry Styles, Justin Bieber and Billy Porter— have often donned bright coloured clothes, skirts and jewelry pieces like pearls, gowns and nose rings to set a bold statement.
Modern western trends introduced gender agnostic fashion like jeans, jackets, shirts, T-shirts and so on and high fashion led to mass adaptation of fashion trends across the globe.
But today’s fashion inspiration has a strong root in traditions. Even before the western trends took over, national dresses of different nations across the world were gender agnostic and all about comfort.
Pitt’s Scottish inspiration for the premiere is a reminder of how traditional dressing has always been very androgynous in nature. The wrap-around knee-length skirt called kilt emerged in fashion in the 16th century for men to wear on formal occasions. Today, it has also become a part of informal clothing and even been adopted as women’s wear for certain sports events in that part of the world.
In India, traditional dresses like dhotis and kurta pyjamas have always been gender agnostic. In fact, designer Tarun Tahiliani feels that a lot of Indian prints, too, are gender fluid and can work for both men and women. “Indian fashion was very gender fluid but we have fallen into the western structure. We need to be easy on ourselves. In our culture, we have always been acceptable of every gender,” says Tahiliani.
Designer Anju Modi feels that it can also be very stylish. “One can wear a white kurta with palazzo pants and can dress the Indian modern way. Women also wear a straight shirt kurta with a short capri pants. It looks good as daywear,” Modi says.
African island Madagascar also has men and women wearing the same traditional dress called lamba, a rectangular cloth wrapped around the body. Likewise, Japan’s flowy national dress kimono, is worn by both men and women and in China, the country’s national dress qipao has a very similar design for both men and women.
However, as androgynous or unisex becomes a fashion again, several labels have emerged and are marketing themselves as such. Internationally, brands like Telfar, Wales Bonner and Big Bud Press have made a mark. In India, Jaywalking, Huemn, almostgods, Kanika Goyal Label, Dhruv Kapoor have gender fluidity at its core.
Indian brand Antar Agni, too, stands out for its androgynous styles. Ujjawal Dubey, founder of the label who debuted his first collection at Lakme Fashion Week in 2014, says, “Our society is moving towards becoming progressive because there is a lot of acceptance that has come into it in the last few years. As a result, androgynous and gender-fluid fashion is making its presence felt now more than ever. This has stemmed from the need for people to be free. Secondly, wearability and ease are the second biggest reason behind the popularity of gender-fluid fashion. We’ve spent a majority of the last year in pyjamas and although this may continue for a while longer, people now want to dress up. Wearability has been our key rule since the inception of the brand.”
Men’s wear designer Kunal Rawal recently showcased his collection ‘Dear Men’ at FDCI India Couture Week 2022. According to Rawal, he drew inspiration from the medley of cultural and traditional influences prevalent in India. The collection caters to the whole spectrum of celebrations ranging from modern luxury to deep rooted traditional wear. A believer in androgynous and gender-fluid pieces, Rawal explored design sensibilities which are freeing of gender stereotypes—making fluidity the new norm.
Gender-fluid fashion should also be free from stereotypical colour palettes, feels designer Suneet Varma. “I think gender fluidity is more about a lifestyle and I don’t think it needs to have a colour palette. It should be something that feels comfortable on your skin; something that makes you feel happy and alive—with the whole attitude of ‘live and let live’,” he says.