You might have recently read about Liu Xianping, the 72-year-old grandfather who has styled and modeled clothes his granddaughter offers in her online shop, Yuekou. Sometimes in long-haired wigs, sometimes showing his short, grey natural hair, Liu is always photographed in sunglasses and tights. He has a slim figure, including legs envied by young Chinese women.
Although I think it’s cute and kitschy, I’m not sure it’s particularly revolutionary or challenging. Liu defended his non-traditional activities to a China Newsweek journalist seemingly with no direct prompt, but rather a general sense that such behavior is socially “unacceptable” and needs to be justified. Much of the news coverage focuses on the pensioner’s understanding of teenage fashion (he styles many outfits himself) and the huge increase in sales generated by his inclusion.
But why don’t I find it challenging? Does it have a “cute old man” aspect? What if he were forty-two, or twenty-two? Do his sunglasses and tights hide more masculine identifiers (i.e. leg hair) that might make it less sweet, more farcical? Even with the wigs and tights, it is obvious that this is not a young girl; but does his body type help him “pass”? The Guardian included these photoshoots in a roundup of recent androgynous model news, which threw me off–I have always unintentionally favored the “neither specifically masculine or feminine” definition over that of “having traditional male and female roles…reversed.”
Where does Liu Xianping figure in a discussion of androgyny in fashion? What is the difference between Andrej Pejic wearing a sheer dress and black panty for Jean Paul Gaultier, and Liu modeling his granddaughter’s offerings? Does Liu’s presence question the availability of women’s clothing for men? Is it significant that Liu is Chinese? Does the use of the non-traditional/”opposite” gender in selling clothing blur gender lines, or make them more apparent?
It’s so interesting to hear Casey Legler, a (6’2″) female (former Olympic swimmer) who exclusively models traditionally male clothing define herself as a “male model,” but then get flustered and caught up in gender role terminology. Websites describe her as “a male model who is a woman”, or “a woman working as a male model”; how is that description different from “a woman modeling men’s clothing?” The fashion world is arguably different from the “real world”; where do the gender roles, signifiers, and vocabulary of each space overlap and deviate? Are Liu and Legler (and Lea T) breaking down barriers in both spaces, or is fashion more flexible? Legler is often shown in suits, smoking tobacco in its many forms; do you think they overdo the typically masculine aspects of the clothing and lifestyles she models? Where the do the visual and the etymological collide?
This is certainly an extremely complex and subjective topic with a long history in the fashion world and academia. You can find a range of other discussions on the subject of androgyny on Worn Through here. What does “androgyny” mean to you, and what place does it have in the fashion world in the 2010s? Please leave your comments below!
Crane, Diana. “Gender and Hegemony in Fashion Magazines: Women’s Interpretation of Fashion Photographs” The Sociological Quarterly 40 (1999): 541-563.
Hong, Ivy and John Rust. “Androgyny and openness to experience in a Chinese population” Social Behavior and Personality 17 (1989): 215-218.
Sánchez, María Carla and Linda Schlossberg. Passing: Identity and Interpretation in Sexuality, Race, and Religion. New York: New York University, 2001.
Thompson, Craig J. and Diana L. Haytko. “Speaking of Fashion: Fashion Discourses and the Appropriation of Countervailing Cultural Meanings” Journal of Consumer Research 24 (1997): 15-42.