The world of fashion never ceases to evolve as art, culture, and global movements continue to influence our personal style and shape our opinions on what is considered in vogue. We’ve seen so much change, particularly in the women’s category, in textile production and usage, as well as silhouettes, and one of the biggest factors that contributed to the growth and diversity in women’s fashion is traditional menswear, oddly enough.
Going back to the early 1850s when trousers for women first manifested as “Bloomers,” women’s rights activist Amelia Bloomer fought hard for a comfortable, safer alternative to the petticoat. Although nowadays we would only refer to trousers as bloomers, the definition back then referred to the entire ensemble that consisted of pantaloons worn under a loose bodice and knee-length dress. This set the standard for women’s riding gear, but still ladies weren’t yet wearing trousers for other occasions.
In 1911, French designer Paul Poiret took a risk in his collection, creating the harem bottoms for women. Now considered a must-have for your trouser collection, along with staples like leggings and cropped styles, these drop-crotch bottoms broke the boundaries of women’s fashion, stealing the front cover of Vogue and became a norm for celebrity style. Coco Chanel was seen often in her boyfriend’s suits, though it wasn’t until the 1960s when women’s dinner jackets were introduced to the world, when Yves Saint Laurent launched a line of pantsuits for ladies. Once suits and pants were fully accepted in womenswear, more designers pushed for mixed gender fashion, taking historically masculine pieces like leather jackets and jeans and tailoring them according to a woman’s figure.
What about heels? Surely, this quintessentially ladylike type of footwear was originally conceptualised to fit the mold of a woman’s foot. But like every other item mentioned earlier, men were the first wearers of heels, a critical part of riding gear that started in 16th century Persia and spread throughout Europe, as the aristocrats enthusiastically adopted the style. Heels used to be what women wore to masculinise their style, but the enlightenment brought a change in menswear, which focused more on practicality. Tall shoes no longer symbolised social class for men, and from then on, heels were strictly for women.
It’s strange to think that at a certain point in our history that heels were strictly for men, considering there were other styles of shoes that one could argue were more “manly” in construction in comparison. Take the penny loafer, for example. With origins dating back to the 1930s, penny loafers were actually a unisex style that was seen in both casual and formal settings. To this day, loafers remain equally popular for men and women, with every brand from fast fashion to luxury labels like Ferragamo often including that shoe silhouette, as shown in the collection recently brought to fashionistas attention by fashion website, Lyst.
While some may insist that there are rules in fashion, in reality they aren’t as rigid as they appear to be. We’re constantly mixing each other’s styles, and it’s only a matter of time before men start taking fashion advice from women.