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Women Wearing the Pants: Evolution of Andro-Chic Style

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Throughout history, certain garments have come to be narrowly defined as gender specific. Within the context of western attire skirts, blouses and dresses are commonly regarded as articles of women's wear. While shirts, trousers and ties form the basis of men's wardrobe. Yet, the changeable nature of fashion constantly challenged elements of dress status quo.

In the 1930s, on the back lots of Hollywood studios, the gauntlet was thrown: gender specific dress versus style innovation.

Screen sirens Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo daringly wore trousers/trouser suits both on and off camera. Their approach to dress widened a narrow code. The visual of Hollywood beauties in tailored men's attire caused a sensation felt throughout the international fashion-watch community. But, androgynous dress had yet to take firm hold on fashion sensibilities.

Three decades hence and the turbulent, 'free to be me' 1960s epoch was the backdrop for one of the most singular offerings on the fashion stage: Le Smoking, the tuxedo suit for women. In 1966, couturier Yves Saint Laurent created the iconic Le Smoking. This unexpected interpretation of a classic menswear piece, to clothe the female form, ignited a fashion furor. Le Smoking became part of the larger transition of seismic social change. Its introduction on the fashion scene was electric. The world was in uproar and Le Smoking joined in the cacophony.

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Le Smoking, created by Yves Saint Laurent


This time, the battle was furious as fashion challenged the very fabric of social norms; the threads were unweaving, but there was no turning back. A heavyweight bout ensued: in one corner fashion innovation, in the other, staid societal rules.

Forty plus years later, the date on the fashion calendar: Spring/Summer 2013 ... cue the bell ... ding, ding - fashion innovation stands victorious.

Today, androgynous dress is unencumbered by fulfillment of an agenda, other than execution of a beautiful look and celebration of a liberating style. It seems refreshingly free from political posturing and social commentary. It is the expansion of wardrobe basics from gender specific to genderless. That's the exciting bit, the freedom to vacillate between dress extreme: style combinations of masculine, feminine attire ... and to look fabulous in the process.

We bid farewell to the hodge-podge rummaging through men's closets as the source for masculine clothes; and say hello to the andro-chic pieces lovingly designed to celebrate the female physique.

Designer Paul Smith has triumphed andro-chic dress: softening the angularity of masculine clothing and creating a silhouette, which celebrates womanly form, all while maintaining a masculine edginess. For his S/S 2013 women's wear collection, Sir Paul presented simple, soft, elegant, tailored clothes with minimalist reserve, clean lines, and warm colours. Yet the collection was neither trouser-centric nor colour void. There were sleeve-less, loose fit, flowy dresses and skirts - both of midi, maxi lengths. The muted colour palette included tangerine orange, pumpkin orange, citric yellow, mustard yellow, paprika red, pea green ... a colour cornucopia.

The entire collection succinctly sums up contemporary andro-chic style: effortless, minimal, classic - vibrant with a touch of edge. What four decades past, stirred rumblings in many quarters, is now set in our fashion consciousness. Andro-chic style has evolved into a fashion main-to-stay.


Paul Smith, Spring/Summer 2013