Gender is in fashion…well, the intermixing of it that is.
For the past couple of years, the fashion world has embraced a touch of feminine with masculine by way of male models dressed in gender bending designs on the runway and Marc Jacobs effortlessly sporting a skirt. The reality show RuPaul’s Drag Race has combined fashion with drag, making queens Pearl and Raja fashion house names. However, when it comes to womenswear, fashion has flipped gender conventions since the 1980s.
The 1980s was an era of change in the fashion industry. It was a time where the economy was booming, and as a result, a societal love of shopping grew. It was also a decade that embraced power. As The New York Times put it, it was a time of “broad shoulders, boss women and tough chic.”
The fashion focus on womenswear at the time was on power suiting, a work-based outfit that embraced oversized shoulders in a muted colored feminine silhouette. Another influence was the New Wave music scene, which brought an extreme form of gender reversal of women’s fashion.
The most prominent fashion icon that came from the New Wave scene was Eurythmics singer Annie Lennox. Annie stunned the world with a short red-tinged haircut, a black menswear suit, grey tie, and crisp white shirt in the hit music video, “Sweet Dreams.” To contrast this look, Annie emphasized her masculine attire with a full face of makeup. “I loved the tailoring at the time of the Eighties suits with padded shoulders and nipped in waists,” Annie said to Herald Scotland. “Women have been wearing men’s clothes for centuries. It’s a powerful thing when a woman wears something less feminine. It’s saying; you must look at me slightly differently, I’m not just going to be a sexual object for you.”
Annie’s appearance in “Sweet Dreams” was the first time a non-traditional female look appealed to the general public. Although Annie’s style wasn’t always a play between masculine and feminine, no matter what she wore she combined tough with soft. In the “Missionary Man” video, the singer sported a sleeveless leather jumpsuit with grommets and studs. Annie added a feminine touch through a full face of makeup and pointed bra. For the 1984 Grammy Awards Annie dressed up as Elvis Presley, while in 1992 she donned an androgynous look with avant garde makeup for a Freddie Mercury tribute.
Annie’s personality and unapologetic style left an impact on the fashion world. Fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier channeled Annie’s “Sweet Dreams” look with two models in clad in pinstriped suits and red cropped hair for his Spring/Summer 2013 fashion show. In 2011, the Victoria & Albert museum in London featured an exhibit titled, “The House of Annie Lennox,” which was a retrospective of the singer’s style.
On her gender bending style, Annie put it simply: “As human beings we clothe ourselves – whether you’re a policeman, a nurse or a sex worker – to tell people about ourselves. It’s just a language.”