Skirts, blouses, and purses: How menswear is blurring gender boundaries

With Pharrell’s celebrity-studded debut for Louis Vuitton in Paris garnering much of the buzz, it’s almost easy to forget the point of Men’s Fashion Week: clothes. Between the packed schedules of London, Milan, Florence, Paris — and even a quick stop in Berlin — there’s no shortage of new menswear propositions for the Spring/Summer 2024 season.

And, as has been the case for a few seasons now, a lot of the menswear includes flourishes borrowed from womenswear. 

For their men’s collections shows this season, JW Anderson’s Loewe and Anthony Vacarello’s Saint Laurent showcased draped, flowing blouses. At Valentino, Pierpaolo Piccioli dressed men in boxy skirts. Rick Owens placed models in dress-length tunics with nothing underneath (maybe an emulation of the pantless trend propagated by the likes of Jacquemus and Kendall Jenner), along with higher-than-high-waisted pants that created a silhouette with a nipped-in waist. In a collection showcased through a lookbook shot in Massachusetts, American menswear designer Emily Adams Bode Aujla showed male models in low-heeled ballet flats

At Valentino’s Spring/Summer 2024 menswear show, 40 of the 56 looks included shorts or skirts. Photo: Valentino

It’s not the first time designers have showcased skirts and other more feminine styles in their men’s collections. Kanye West donned Givenchy skirts in 2012 and Harry Styles has been wearing dresses and skirts in magazine shoots since 2020. And yet the choice still feels novel enough to make headlines. 

On the womenswear side, trends originating on the runway show up at fast fashion retailers like Zara and Shein with astonishing speed. But after multiple seasons of skirts and blouses for men, is the menswear market finally accepting the more feminine styles seen on the runways? 

Breaking menswear’s boundaries 

“Historically the men’s market was slower,” says Rob Nowill, Mr Porter content director, of menswear’s ability to trickle down trends from the runways to the mass market. “However, we are now witnessing that acceleration.”

This doesn’t mean the exact flashy pieces created for runway shows will show up as is at retailers and on the street. But it does move the needle on what kinds of styles can appear in the menswear collections that will hit stores. 

“The move towards a broader expression of masculine identity isn’t just about skirts or blouses,” says Nick Paget, senior menswear strategist at trend forecaster WGSN. “What they signify is important, and that is, that men don’t have to wear such a tightly constrained roster of items these days.” 

“The move towards a broader expression of masculine identity isn’t just about skirts or blouses. What they signify is important, and that is, that men don’t have to wear such a tightly constrained roster of items these days.” 

While these, and more avant garde outfits worn on the red carpet and at NBA games by male celebrities and sports personalities gain media traction, the commercial reality is much more subtle.

Over on TikTok, male influencers are trying their hand at cropping their shirts — an established trend in womenswear for years now — while skirts for men can be found at retailers from Asos to Ssense. Skaters and surfers are embracing the romantic look with gauzy lace shirts

“Some ideas have definitely been adapted by a wider spectrum of brands: Softer, more fluid fabrics like silk and satin have been adapted into several collections, as have draped elements in clothing,” Nowill adds. “We’ve also seen brands playing with embellishment and decoration much more freely.”

Accessories traditionally intended for a female audience have made inroads with male customers, too. Jewelry is far from a flash in the pan trend for men, with brands like Frank Ocean’s Homer and Julia Lang’s Veert featuring mostly male models in their marketing. Brands like Dior and Fendi have realized they can double their audience by making male-targeted versions of their famed Saddle and Baguette bags, respectively.   


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Does menswear still matter?

With menswear borrowing more and more from womenswear, it could be tempting to imagine throwing all the rules and conventions of menswear out the window. But the traditional confines of menswear built on suiting and tailoring are still valuable areas of exploration. As British designer Martine Rose told The Guardian last month, the strict codes around menswear present an opportunity to buck norms rather than hew to them: “I like to break the rules,” she said. “And there’s loads of rules of menswear.” 

Alongside traditional menswear labels, gender-fluid brands like Ludovic de Saint Sernin, which typically shows during the men’s schedule, have also helped challenge the division between mens and womenswear. De Saint Sernin’s show at Paris Men’s Fashion Week this June showed lightweight gowns, lace-up trousers and bare midriffs on male and female models alike. 

Ludovic de Saint Sernin’s “Lust” collection for Spring 2024 stays true to his ethereal, gender-fluid style. Photo: Ludovic de Saint Sernin

“It seems like an evolution of ‘gender-fluid’ dressing, but also a reflection of how men have generally become more comfortable with more experimental dressing over the last few years,” Nowill says of the evolution in menswear silhouettes. “Shapes and styles that would have been considered as very challenging in the recent past are now becoming a part of men’s wardrobes.” 

The rise of gender-fluid brands seemed to push some big names to try to do away with strict divisions between menswear and womenswear, as brands like Gucci and Valentino consolidated their runway schedule to showcase co-ed presentations in recent years, perhaps in a new odd to new shopping norms embraced by Gen Z. “For many Gen Z shopping for clothing is a different experience,” adds Paget. “Many shop for pieces they feel an affinity to, regardless of what gendered section those items might sit.”

However, those brands have since reverted back to a traditional men’s and women’s divide, with Valentino coming back to the menswear schedule in Milan this June for the first time in three years. 

Given their own space, rather than stuffed into the crowded womenswear schedules, those menswear collections can make their own statement about how we should consider male dressing. At his Milan show, Pierpaolo Piccioli made a Valentino menswear collection in homage to Hanya Yanagihara’s 2015 novel A Little Life, which tells the story of four male friends traversing adulthood in New York City.  

“It just makes sense for a lot of menswear brands [to have their own show], which need their own platform to communicate their ideas and identity,” said Nowill. 

The blurring of gender boundaries doesn’t mean menswear is disappearing — in fact it means it’s looking more interesting than ever.