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To understand Androgynous clothing, first, it is essential to understand the origin and introduction of the term, Androgynous. As the word, Androgynous itself suggests its origin from the Latin word, “ androgyne”. The term androgyny is a union of feminine and masculine physical attributes, mainly associated with physical traits. Hence, Androgyny is considered as a biological and intersectional fashion concept that is derived and described beyond gender and its identity. It has evolved dynamically over decades across the globe with a mould of regional and international influence and interpretation. With its paramount essence, Androgynous Fashion is meant to be perceived and to be practiced blurring the lines of gender and its norms with a skewing pattern of gender-inclusive and sexually neutral.
Introduction of Androgynous Fashion & Clothing
If we go back to tracing the history of androgynous fashion & clothing, we will come across the milestones in the journey of androgyny and its rise globally and regionally or nationally. These events and milestones share a symbiotic relationship between the socio-political status and the inception of consumerism and its democratisation. Throughout history, it is a landmark notation that dressing styles were always demarcated by gender and gender identity, and this distinction was imposed by society and social constructs. Although, androgyny was always part of royal households and elite residents of contemporary times.
During the 18th Century, androgyny came to light with an extra edge of rebellion that was led by England and France. This purely was an aristocratic stunt to make the class stand out, visually.
In ancient times in India, we can observe the gradual translation of clothing into distinctive gender clothing due to the influence of different rulers and sultans. If we go back to the Vedic times, it is notably conspicuous that the clothing during that time was more towards adornment and ornamentation, often recognized as Shringar. Shringar shares a mutual nexus not only with auspicious trends and traditions of the contemporary times but also has an intense meaning towards exploring oneself. Over the course of centuries, from the ancient to Mediaeval Era in India, we can again find fusion clothing and dressing originated with a blend of Indigenous Indianness and the foreign influence that came along with the invasion of outsiders.
Travelling back to the time, we can certainly acclaim that the clothing in India was not prescribed as the religion Hindu was never considered to be a unified belief. It is quite evident that India followed two prevalent practices majorly known as the Hermit School of Thought and Household School of Thought.
Hermit School of Thought revolved around the idea of an understanding of the body as a devil's workshop that disconnects oneself to the ulterior goal of life and it was considered as an absurdity that too in a well-organised society having a very narrow and limited point of view whereas in Household School of Thought had a very strong enunciation of body and bodily ornamentation. Shringar was the supreme element of life hence the celebration of individuality.
We can see through the visuals of these times that the clothing was not very elaborate but very much had a fluidity that came into the light as draped clothing. The draped clothing was very much based on anatomy and functionality depending upon day-to-day responsibilities. Women were often seen wearing layered draped clothing which was described as Ekvastra, Dwivastra, Trivastra, and Lajja Vastra. This sort of clothing was based on gender identity as men also adorned a similar sense of clothing in terms of fashion, then called Shringar.
Mentioning Shringar and not talking about Kalidasa will be unjust especially when it comes to ornamentation as well as the celebration of the same. In these notable collections of ethology, it is clearly can be seen that men and women both celebrated shringar equally hence we find the same retrospections through the monuments, scriptures, and carvings across the era and in the upcoming eras. Clothing was not a case of vanity but also a connection with the deity where we can see that gods and goddesses were offered clothes and ornaments. Mangalayam is one of the key practices through which the household school of thought is more pronounced.
The third gender existed in India since the 18th Century wherein the third gender was neither considered as male or female. The third gender then wore women’s wear which was getting more layered and stitched due to the foreign influence, especially during the Mughal Era.
Somehow, androgynous clothing set its primitive foot forward then and onwards. As they were very much involved in the lifestyles of women and men, equally creating a perfect balance. Hence, this identity got more pronounced and an urge for change prevailed.
This was the time when Ekvastra, Dwivastra, Trivastra, and Lajjavastra were taking shape of Saree which was supposed to cover top and bottom for women whereas men were getting more adaptive towards the neutral clothing which was an eclectic mix of men’s and women’s wear as per the need of an hour and chores they participated in.
When the Mughal entered India, they also brought the Abrahamical School of Thought along with them, changing the entire perspective and idea of freedom. This school of thought was ferocious, with an ideology of the body to be considered to be covered, hence Pardah came into the picture.
This was the time when silhouettes of ancient India were getting stitched into the silhouettes of mediaeval India. And as time passes, it is remarkable to see that periodic embroidery was also getting widespread, especially in the Northern Part of India as the influence of Mughal was fairly pronounced in these regions whereas, in Southern India, Indians were still wearing and adorning their traditional clothing. Ecosystems in the mainland, have vigorous regional impact hence we witness different patterns of androgynous clothing in different regions.
From Kurta to Angarakha, Indian garments always held a gamut of gender fluidity. In the current scenario, many homegrown Indian brands and designers are taking this route of clothing to advocate and educate about the freedom of clothing and make an independent choice of representing the personal sphere with inclusivity. The commercialization of the newfound clothing not only holds the importance of heritage and culture of the society but also is becoming one of the best trends in Fashion making it more commercially viable and adaptive. In 1920, during industrialization when androgynous clothing was introduced the world reacted to it with a mixed emotion of absurdity and change. This change was further reciprocated by the iconic pantsuits that were introduced in the 1930s. This was the time when the modern world was getting born.
Coming back to India, India was also going through a massive change and this change was brought by the westerners. Westernisation did bring the change but this change was only limited to the elites and the people who were associated with these dignitaries and royals. It is recalled as one of the status quos that were only accessible to the limited strata of society.
When we share a long history & legacy behind the imprints of a succession of imprints, it is vividly prone to get dragged away with the cultural norms. When we as a nation got introduced to such identified and distinctive clothing we assumed it with a notion of gender identity calling it she or he. This was the time when Indians were getting dressed to impress their English superiors and English bosses.
This liberalisation towards clothing made the difference and that’s where clothing became a gender game. That idea that humans are either male or female is deeply ingrained in Western Culture, but as research and experiences of countless non-gender conforming people show, sex and gender aren’t perfectly binary. So, why should our clothes be? The rules that govern what men and women should wear respectively are fairly arbitrary. We know that because they keep changing in this dynamic world.
After India got familiar with western clothing, people started looking at clothes defining their status-quo, and wealth. The ratio of working men over women was greater than the current count. This disparity created a disruptive approach to defining gender-based clothing. But what was missing in the remarkable journey of this transition was the gap that was widening due to global outreach and awareness.
The transient journey from gender identity to gender fluidity became stronger due to the gap created by gender identity and its norms. Over time, this gap became wider and larger. This gap connected the people who were struggling to emote the sentiments with the rest of the population. Hence, this gap led to the thoughts of possibilities that could be derived, originated, and amalgamated to make gender fluidity stronger. Gender fluidity did not only help to bridge the gap but also brought a common ground in society as a game-changer and fair practice.
Choices come with consequences and consequences can be a major game-changer for the best or the worst. Considering the clothing scenario and its social cause attached with societal culture, it appeared to be an awareness in front of the society.
Awareness comes with an impactful trail of changes and bold actions. Similarly, 377 plays an integral role in Indian Fashion ideology and industry along with the business of fashion. Fashion enthusiasts all over the world would be aware that there is nothing more immaculate than LGBTQ+ fashions.
With revolutions and radical changes, the thought process of the conventional idea of clothing is getting reprimanded and these changes are globally accepted, embraced, and acknowledged. People are coming out and choosing the right to live and express their thoughts on their own terms.
With changing mindset, and awareness of gender neutrality, it can be seen easily that the market of gender neutral fashion is increasing day by day. This increased share of gender neutral brands is not only seen in apparel industry but across the fashion, and lifestyle goods such as jewellery, accessories, beauty, and even fragrance across the globe as well as nationally. In the current scenario, after sustainability, gender neutrality is the latest trend in the Fashion & Retail industry contributing billions of dollars to existing brands, and expanding their product portfolio with diverse offerings. Unisex fashion also syncs with the idea of sustainability considering one product, one identity approach that leads to less production more fashion.
Most of the leading brands are coming out of the construct of the society by positioning themselves as body positive, and gender neutral practitioners. Indian retailers are adopting this trend along with sustainability, and body positivity.
It is a Personal Choice
Fashion in its own essence is called an expression and expression can be varied. Previously, fashion has always been seen through the lens of gender but now it’s no secret that our society is excelling with progression towards a more harmonious, fluid, and inclusive existence beyond the norms.
Androgynous dressing is not just buying clothes for the opposite or cross-gender. It’s more like wearing whatever an individual chooses to wear. In a nutshell, it can safely be said that sex and gender are different in the idea of their origin and behavior.
Clothing is simply a form of personal expression and as our society moves farther and farther away from labels and set boxes, we’re embarking on a journey as fluid as water.
Usha K, Lecturer Fashion Business Management, IIAD, has been a visual strategist for Apparel & Fashion with an experience of working in Diamond Jewellery (product category). Having worked with CaratLane, KOOVS, Aditya Birla Fashion & Retai ...
l in the area of Visual Merchandising and Marketing now she brings her unique experience to teaching. Usha has also been a consultant with major brands like Titan, Allen Digital and OPPO for email marketing, content & copywriting along with campaign building and social media.
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