The rise of media in the last century brought with itself some standards in terms of gender roles, fashion, trends and numerous different things. It put into the minds of people ideas about how men and women should look like and created stereotypical images. The greatest example would be of course Marilyn Monroe, who performed the role of the desirable and sexy woman. The first issue of Playboy features her on the cover: a woman desired by all men. She was blonde, fair tanned, wore red lipsticks and thick eyelashes, she was thin, but yet had full breasts, well-shaped hips and legs; everybody wanted to look like her and the idea of physical beauty shaped pretty much around this depiction for the next decades. But at some point, there was a shift in this standard and “beauty” was pretty much identified with being “thin”. According to a survey made by Glamour magazine, 40% out of 16,000 women struggle with their body shape and think that they are “too fat”. While we see thousands of images of attractive looking young women in advertisements, we start to feel the urge that we should look like them. But perhaps in the last few years we saw hints about that this might change.
There is another thing that media did except for stereotyping beauty, it also spread the idea of fashion around the world. Fashion is a rather hypocritical concept, because it creates stereotypes but it also creates individualism. Fashion created the idea that clothing shows more about a person that beauty and social class, it showed that clothing is a way of self expression. That is why certain brands and certain products are made for different consumer groups. And that is where advertisements become important. Usually when we look at fashion advertisements we see that the models faces are beautified and their only expression is a sexy but empty glance. The “beauty” of the model is important to show the product “attractive”. For clothes it is also the setting that is important; a club or the city, giving the message “this is the place you belong to if you wear this”. For many years our understanding of fashion was as flat as Spice Girls, until perhaps recently with the “alternative” scene rising and people trying to try all sorts of weird combinations. This perhaps confuses the marketing department a little bit. If things get so individualistic that you can wear anything together with everything, how to pick the consumer group?
That is maybe how and why the “androgynous” look emerged. In many advertisements, fashion shows and trends we can now see this “androgyny”, the loss of the idea of gender, or rather the fusing of genders. These images look so neutral and genderless that they don’t seem to present a beauty standard or a certain group, not even a group of a certain gender. Perhaps this can be seen as a step of acceptance towards homosexuality, and towards the fact that not everybody is perfect, and that not everybody has full breasts.
Now let us analyze some advertisements to understand the aspects of the androgynous model. These two photographs are from the Hugo Boss Fall/winter 2009/2010 collection. For both models it is not immediately clear what their gender is. The photograph on the left is featuring a man with earrings and make up as we would expect a woman to do, and the photograph on the right is featuring a woman with short hair combed backwards, wearing a shirt and a tie as we would expect from a man. Their skin is smooth and pale, in contrast with their dark and short hair, and the photographs are in black and white.
The first advertisement of Calvin Klein is originally not black and white, but the background is so white, and the clothes are so black that the only color is the model’s hair. Her face is very pale and contains only a little bit of pink. Her waist, thigh or breast doesn’t show any sign of femininity, her hands are covered with gloves as if hiding feminine wrists, or perhaps fingernails. The shoe that is coming under the spotlight out of the shadow is highlighted.
In the Giorgio Armani advertisement we see the hair is covered with a pretty much unisex hat. The physique again isn’t feminine in any way. Her wrists are bony, and could belong to a thin man as well as to a woman. Her stare is blank, and the make up doesn’t signify much, except that the cheekbones are highlighted as if to deny the round feminine face. The lipstick does only as much as to add to the contrast. She is protective towards her bag, and the light at the background also highlight the bag.
In the second Calvin Klein advertisement we see an androgyny with a unisex haircut. Her fingers are square, her wrists cannot be seen and her fingernails are short and unpolished. The model shows her sexually-insignificant hand and covers a part of her face. She doesn’t have eyebrows, her jaw is square shaped and not round in a way that would be regarded as ‘feminine’.
An article called “Freja Beha Erichsen: a study in androgyny” that was released in the French fashion magazine Purple, we see the nude photographs of Erichsen who doesn’t wear anything but a pair of high-heeled shoes and some jewelry. Erichsen is a living statement, according to the magazine, that one can be an important model without having to hide your body or sexuality, and without having to conform to a stereotype. So we see this new movement of androgynous models giving a new perspective to the fashion industry.
In all of the advertisement examples we see that the photographs are either black & white or high contrast. Black & white and/or high contrast and pale faces are a way to ward off reality. It tells us that the androgynous models are not realistic, which means that it is not intended that one takes an example of these models. Usually the color of advertisements is picked according to the feeling the ad wants to give and the emotion it wants to provoke. This is not so with the androgynous model. They are not passionate and they are not beautiful in the standardized way. Yet they have a certain beauty and serenity. This feeling is also given by the contrast. The model’s sexuality is not stressed, but rather the brand name and the product is.
The androgynous model doesn’t flash at us from some huge billboard to spell us. It rather appeals to our sense of aesthetics, and maybe even attacks a little our social values. It even provokes us to challenge society. Ralph Lauren’s spring/summer 2008 collection features suits on women, his spring/summer 2010 collection features tomboys and military jackets for women. Chanel’s advertisement for the perfume “Coco Mademoiselle” features Natalie Portman nude and fairly androgynous, where she covers her little breasts with a melon hat. The magazine Madame Figaro in Turkey introduced May 2008 a makeup strategy which it called “New Generation Nudity”, a make up that makes your face look pale and as if there is no make up, and the models there look pretty much like the androgynous model in the advertisement for Jean Paul Gaultier’s perfume “Classique”. Fall/winter 2010 Pierre Cardin brought out a three piece suit worn by an androgynous model. Designer Alessandra Colombo adopted the androgynous look, combining it with the “female dandy” style and was seen in Milan at the end of 2009. The androgynous model is not only a marketing strategy; it is an idea that is used by designers to create new fashion trends that state something new and something different from that what has been told since decades: the fashion industry is not only a device to create sex objects.