Crossing the floor: why more men are gravitating towards the glamour of the womenswear department
There is a growing niche of men who can’t find what they are looking for from the traditional men’s fashion category. While menswear has become more experimental in recent years, for this muster of peacocks it has not been enough. This increasing band of fashion-forward men are purchasing larger sizes in feminine womenswear and thanks to celebrities like Harry Styles and Lil Nas X, and designers like Marc Jacobs, men now have the “permission” to buy and wear womenswear as their own. From clothing to accessorises, these men are buying what they like, regardless of where is comes from, just as long as it fits.
Where has this “permission” come from? Where are these men shopping and what are they buying? As this trend increases, will we see women’s brands producing larger sizes to accommodate this new crossover consumer?
Blogger Simon Glazin, theverysimong.com, says: “I don't think it's ‘permission’, I've never sought approval from women to wear clothes aimed at them, it's more about everyone feeling they are able to wear what they like with no judgement, no heckling, no fear.
“We have to remember that clothes have no gender, they don't discriminate and they don't judge. Men have always dabbled in wearing womenswear, all the way back to the Roman emperors in their togas, but it isn't until recently that it's become more 'acceptable' and mainstream. Billy Porter, Harry Styles, Olly Alexander; it's thanks to these men, and, many unknown people, that wearing clothes outside of the male norm is now considered OK,” he says.
Fashion Editor, Chris Hobbs, adds: “I think there’s been a number of things at play. I’m loathe to attribute an entire shift in menswear dressing to a pop star, as much as I appreciate Harry Styles’ love of a dress, but, as someone who’s watched this shift in real time, and in 2014, I was often writing best dressed lists and the pool was pretty slim.
“Ryan Gosling was my go-to then as he used to wear some nice polo shirts. I think a new generation of 20-year-olds entering the workplace coupled with the rise and rise of Instagram, Tik Tok and jazzier fashions have dictated that, plus brands like Gucci [see also Valentino's SS22 haute couture show] really playing with traditional gender norms. Also, an entirely welcomed shift in diversity in films, TV & music means that there’s so many amazing role models,” he says.
Glazin started videoing himself trying on different looks in shop fitting rooms, both men’s and women’s. It proved extremely popular on his Instagram Stories and is now a full series on there - #shoppingwithsimon.
“I get such a good response from being so honest about the stuff I try on,” he says.
Glazin thinks this new demographic are men who feel that what they are being offered up by brands is all boring and neutral, men who like to express themselves through fashion and men who don't want to dress like every other man.
Hobbs says the choice is bigger and you’re not limiting yourself to one side of the store by shopping in the women’s section. “With womenswear you can get colours that just wouldn’t exist in the menswear section,” he says.
Glazin puts it down to diversity, choice, colour and print. “There is masses of womenswear to be had for us men, you just have to go looking for it. Try some things on, know what looks good and then go from there,” he says.
Hobbs adds: “I’ve heard many stories of women buying men’s cashmere and sweaters in the past as the sizing is better and the styles aren’t cropped on the sleeve and longer in the body. So sizing is definitely an issue in the reverse,” he says. “How is a man with a 30 inch waist supposed to navigate if he is a size 8 or 10?”
Hobbs thinks the less body conscious an item the more likely it would be adopted by guys. “Jackets and knitwear are good, though I’ve also bought women’s jeans in the past since most men’s styles have a 32 inch leg which I do not have!” he says.
“I bought a few pairs of womenswear shorts in Zara during the summer. I wanted a few pairs that were halfway between a boxer short and a pyjama bottom, but all you can ever find on the high street for men is a tailored chino, cargo or swim shorts,” says Hobbs, “Whereas Zara had about 4 different styles that fitted the bill so I made my annual pilgrimage. I think brands like Weekday and Arket are quite good for womenswear too as they are focused on good basics,” he says.
“Cuts for women are very different to men, obviously, so finding a shape that suits your body is key,” says Glazin. “Lengths are also an issue, especially if you're over six foot. Also remembering that buttons on anything designed for women are on the opposite side of the garment to menswear!” he says.
Hobbs thinks that brands with craft at their core, such as the American brand, Bode, work well, “It doesn’t particularly differentiate between men and women in terms of its styles, it’s all in the same colour palette, quite loose fitting and I think the average Bode customer isn’t particularly fussed on whether a piece is for women of not,” he says.
“I love Weekday, COS, River Island and Reserved.” says Glazin. “I think it’s an exciting time as designers are continuing to take more risks in terms of print, pattern and fit.” says Hobbs. “Every so often a designer will present (male) models in skirts and it’s a good news story, but I think maybe in the next couple of years, maybe, it will finally become something guys will seriously consider,” he says,
“Where I’d like to see it trickle down more is the high street. I think certain brands are afraid of looking too feminine which could potentially ward off their key shopper, but I think that’s the beauty of online shopping there’s a space for everyone,” says Hobbs.
“THIS IS NOT A TREND. I REPEAT, THIS IS NOT A TREND,” says Glazin. “It's not something I just jumped on the bandwagon with, it's really because I want more out of my wardrobe. And I think I speak for every man who does the same. I truly think brands need to have more unisex sections in stores, there doesn't need to be segregated sections!” he says.
“Not many brands recognise it, although George at ASDA did a campaign for AW21 [main image] celebrating slaying it in anything you feel comfortable in. They had men wearing women's clothes in the new campaign. It was fantastic!” he says.
While there are more unisex propositions, today, they seem to always err on the masculine side of the neutral divide. They are often in block colours and oversized shapes. For example, fashion designer Joseph Altuzarra has launched a new clothing brand called “ALTU”. The “genderful brand” by Joseph Altuzarra “reimagines and challenges traditional notions of dress through the lens of adolescent curiosity and uninhibited gender expression”. The label’s name is a Basque term for “tall” and was given as a nickname to both the designer’s father and grandfather.
The new SS22 collection is available matchesfashion.com and is a mix of classic basics in a neutral palette. While progressive, the men buying womenswear want colour, pattern, ruffles, frills and anything decorative. This isn’t about fading into the background.
Wizz Selvey, Retail Expert and Founder of WIZZ&CO says: “Men wearing womenswear is an opportunity to express themselves, I think certainly younger generations are always looking to express themselves.
“As there’s a wave of more gender fluidity, there’s also less pressure to stick to clothing made for your gender. Womenswear has always had a lot more styles, shapes, fabrics, colours etc. so when considering the options it makes sense that some men are opting for more expressive pieces,” she says.
Selvey thinks there is a new post-pandemic masculine mentality: “People are dressing up and expressing themselves more, I think this is a natural wave after you see any recession or pandemic,” she says. “Just like the ‘hemline index’, people start to become more excited about dressing, now that they have a reason to again. It’s not necessarily linked to peoples’ sexuality, as we have some great icons out there, like Grayson Perry, David Walliams, etc. who are open about ‘dressing up’ in a more everyday way, and being themselves,” she says.
Women’s fast-fashion brand PrettyLittleThing launched a recent holiday campaign featuring RuPaul's Drag Race UK star A’whora along with other inclusive he/she/they models including Lexi Thomas, Christian Arno, Ola Awosika, Fifi Anicah and Brana Alunaa. Aimed at everybody, the clothing sizes ranged from 4 to 30.
Younger generations of men, or people who identity as men, are much more openminded and confident when it comes to dressing. Clothing doesn’t reflect people’s sexuality anymore. The vast range of new role models has promoted an attitude of inclusivity. Women’s clothes are often more beautiful, have a larger rainbow of colours, more detailing and, quite simply, they are there.
Brands such as Zara and COS could think about more inclusive and larger sizing, which would be open to all genders. They could also look for some intel from store staff and managers on what guys are buying and where.
Young designers and brands could simply make some larger sizes and is a much safer expansion of the brand than a big menswear push which so often fails. Stella McCartney recently shuttered her menswear line, and so many others have crashed and burned in this category.
This consumer loves beautiful clothes regardless of where they are in stores. It’s just a question of whether they’ll get their shoulders into them or not.