Androgyny was once a supremely edgy business. From notorious courtier and spy the Chevalier D’Eon shocking polite society in the 18th century to Marlene Dietrich in top hat and tails creating outrage in the 20th, androgyny has long been capable of causing a stir. However, in the last couple of decades things have changed. In 2017 tween daughters are coming home from school and keeping their parents updated on the latest parameters regarding ‘gender non-binary’ issues. It’s become a central issue for pupils understanding awareness about their identity. Gender is now a key strand in society’s cultural dialogue.
Fashion, as ever, is partly responsible for pushing such parameters. In recent times, models such as Casey Legler, Alex Wetter and Erika Linder have defined the zeitgeist of catwalks and photo shoots. The death of David Bowie spotlit the effect the glam boom of the early 1970s had on images of masculinity, and for pop stars of the present day, from Lady Gaga to Dua Lipa, androgyny is simply another tool in the dressing-up box. In other words, the imagery and personalities that confront us every day show an increasing awareness of androgyny.
As far back as 1993, in her occasionally frivolous essay ‘The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female Are Not Enough’, the American academic Anne Fausto-Sterling suggested that we need a serious rethink of the way we approach gender. However, the truth is that, while fashion is currently rife with androgyny, the subject has been innately connected with fine art for centuries. Indeed, if we choose to dig, fashion regularly borrows from art from centuries earlier.