A girl’s world: Fashion’s hidden bias

Fashion

On 25th January, Vogue posted a teaser for their new publication, Miss Vogue, to be launched 6th May. “Way to exclude men even further from fashion”, commented a frustrated viewer. I had been under the impression for a long time that men feel just as comfortable as women in following fashion; I assumed that the apathy of those who did not – the majority of my male friends –  came from a genuine disinterest. This comment forced me to reconsider and ask, whose fault is it that the commercial fashion industry is focused almost exclusively on women?

The magazine industry is perhaps the most obvious area that takes on a somewhat sexist attitude when it comes to fashion. As a young girl, I would pour over Bliss or Mizz magazine – publications aimed to sensitise girls to appearance, fashion and other ‘girly’ topics. But now even these magazines have become outdated, and younger and younger girls are beginning to read Glamour or Cosmopolitan – a different issue that is equally as disquieting as that of a sexist magazine industry. The front covers of Vogue and Elle star almost exclusively female cover stars, with articles about hair and make up, leaving little room for anything to allure the male equivalent of their readership. Last year, Elle featured David Beckham as their cover star, but the photoshoot featured a lot less clothing and a lot more abs than a keen male fashion-lover would have hoped. Men’s magazines such as Men’s Health are mainly lined with articles on lifestyle or sex, with the occasional column discussing the best watches of 2013. For an aspiring male fashion devotee, regardless of age, fashion magazines are just not as accessible as they are to women.

‘But men just aren’t interested enough in fashion,’ some would argue. Any male reading this article would retort – I suspect – that this just is not the case. Over the last century or two, men’s fashion has always been subtler than women’s.  100 years ago, the largest trend would be found in the shape of one’s beard, as the fashionable cut fluctuated as much as skirt lines did. Men’s fashion was often based on practicality, meaning that the finer nuances of their attire was what made a difference – the tie or cufflinks, for example. With the mass production of fairly attractive suits and ties today, these subtleties have started to be rather overlooked. Black tie is just a black suit for most of our generation, with girls getting to have all the fun at balls and dinners. Of course, many young men are immensely interested in good tailoring and appreciate fashion just as much as girls do, and the fault lies in our assumption that these men are the exceptions, not the rule. But why is it that men still feel marginalised by the fashion industry?

There is a culture today surrounding young men that can be very critical to fashion. After the feminist movement in the 1960s, there was a change in the way men viewed fashion. Changes in gender relations resulted in a change in the fashion world. Men were seen to have woken up to fashion – they started to devour fashion like women did and it was completely accepted. But today, it feels like some of our generation have taken a step back. ‘Lad’ culture – I am sure we are all familiar with the phenomenon – is paradoxical in its insistence on looking good, but would not be the most accepting of pouring over the latest Vogue to enjoy fashion if it is not for personal gain. In many ways, young men are stuck in a vicious cycle: it is perceived as unusual for a man to care as much as women do about clothing, meaning that one draws attention to oneself if they do, thus deterring men from doing so. Yet if it were common, it would not be criticised. Although the industry does not do much to help incorporate young men more into fashion, young men do not always help themselves.

Despite most high-end designers being men, a feeling of exclusion still exists today concerning the world of fashion. Fashion is seen as an inherently feminine, despite the fact that it is an essential part of society: even those who decide to not take an interest in it have entered into its world, and will create their own fashion, regardless of how far it is from the catwalk. Young men are at a much greater liberty now than they have been in the past to become as immersed in fashion as women, and often more so. But will the stereotype persist until we see ‘Mr Vogue’ lining our newsstands? Or is it a question of the self-consciousness of particular generations? Whichever it is, someone will have to make the first move.