I came across the above picture on the Sartorialist recently. Her boots reminded me of the purple Doc Martins I cherished in 1991. (Where are they now? In that box in the attic?) This morning as I was taking down my coffee and grapefruit, I came across the following article in The Times. Accordingly to the article, unisex fashion is making a comeback. “Chuong Pham borrowed his mother’s sweatshirt,” one caption exclaims. (I’m not sure if they’re commenting here on the fact that it’s a sweatshirt or that it’s his mothers… but that’s another debate.)
As I scroll through photos of skinny jeans and worsted wool overcoats – “MIX, MATCH, BLEND”! – I flashed back to a scene of the Monday night drag show I used to frequent back when I was still a teen trying to prove something about suburban malaise. That night I was wearing a thin tube of silver lycra – perhaps an oversized vest would’ve been better? Misery was performing a rousing rendition of the new Jennifer Lopez single. The boy next to me was wearing what looked like a leather napkin pieced together at the seams with black fishnets. At one point Misery pointed at me in the crowd. “Baby, I like your dress,” she said.
As I sit around my apartment a decade later in wool knee-socks and a men’s cowlneck sweater with holes under the arms – ok it’s cold in here – I wonder about transcending and blending. “Kids, even little kids, are experimenting across gender lines. Boys are wearing My Little Pony T-shirts, just because they like them. Sometimes they like to dress in the girls’ section because the shirts are cooler,” says psychologist Dr. Ehrensaft in the article.
Well, she’s got a point there. Who doesn’t want to rock out with My Little Pony? But, what’s the hype? And is this really anything new? Beyond the thrill of unleasing your inner man/woman – an important feat to be sure and one not to be missed (personally, my favorite unisex toy was the abacus) – I wonder if this new trend isn’t glossing over one key factor? Unisex fashion isn’t just about transcending barriers between sexualities, or taking your mother’s old sweatshirt out for a spin (thought this does make for a fun evening out). It’s about a nostalgia for garments which transcend fads or trends. In fact, the new “unisex” embraces an aesthetic of tradition – lines and fabrics which, though modified, at their core recall the classics. Who doesn’t like a pair of tapered trowsers? Don’t all good things start under a houndstooth trench?
I like old garments, my father’s old L.L. Bean button-ups, things with a wide wale. As a kid I used to dress up in my parents clothes when they went out for the night: my dad’s denim Wranglers and wool fisherman sweaters, the dresses my mother wore on her honeymoon. I wanted to know what it was to be him at college in the 70’s, and her during those warm Bermuda nights. I was attracted to those clothes not because they somehow unsexed or resexed me but because I respected them. They had a history that predated me. It was a bit like making a cameo in a vintage noir film.
Check out friend Lizzy Seckler’s new clothing line LYS. Liz “set out to design a collection made from organic and sustainable fibers that would also be fluid and wearable – clothes that would be viable in any situation and whose reliance on and modification of classic lines would give them an extended lifespan.” (This lifted from her mission statement. Check it out in full on her website.)
“’Sustainability is not just about the materials,’” Liz points out. “’It’s answering the question of just how versatile and timeless each piece can be. I wanted to consider not only the process used to create the clothes, but also the ability of the garments to sustain integrity for many years. The idea of disposable fashion is not just detrimental because of how the materials are produced, but because it feeds the belief that clothes are meant to last for no more than a season. The items I design are meant to have both a low-impact upon creation and a long-impact on the life of their owner.”
She’s right. That lycra tube dress didn’t make it through the night … never mind the season.