Classic MENswear Is A Misnomer: Rise Of Androgyny

We now live in the year 2020. The year we had futuristic visions about our standard of life. We’ve come a long way from the patriarchal society that we used to live in, thanks to the suffragettes of the last decades. Feminism had taken every approach possible to bring parity to the way our civilisation functions now. Conveniently, in more aspects than we can imagine, equality has been achieved. But there are also some things that are simply just exclusive for a singular gender. The classic menswear reserved for men is one such example. So, shouldn’t it move away from its misnomer, and reintroduce something much more inclusive? The future doesn’t have to have flying cars, but perhaps can we anticipate women wearing three-piece suits to be a norm?

Two women wearing blazer, a classic menswear.
While suits can be said to be constricting and stuffy, even, it offers freedom and power in a larger context. That’s why it should be related to power and not masculinity.
Image by Christina from Unsplash

Classic WOMENswear Within Budget

Back in 2015, I, among a minor group of other girls, was a first-year female student in a law school, which was a men-saturated environment. During my first year, I remember having to prepare for presentations and moots. But you know what made me more anxious than the technical work? Planning an outfit. Planning something formal within budget was tricky. It was a metaphor people used to joke about that law school was just a corporate kindergarten. A simulation on how to walk and talk in the real corporate world.

Besides, I was also aware that it was all training before I step into a patriarchal world, where I will have to work among men and compete with men. Hence, looking pretty and sweet was the last of my concern, because the day was for serious business. So dressing the part was just as essential as honing the more technical things, even for a mock trial. When deciding what to wear, I thought that going for an outfit from the classic menswear will emanate a more powerful image, fit for the event.

1. Limited Availability Unlike Wide Range Classic Menswear

I remember the hours I spent looking for the most immaculate blazer to match with my slacks. Trying the blazers one by one in the fitting room made me more anxious than the presentation itself. Small, Medium, and Large mediocre options were common in ready-to-wear shopping. Regardless of whether they were Zara, H&M, or NEXT, they were ready-to-wear and I was not the “standard size”.

Woman wearing classic menswear in a three-piece suit.
Another frustrating aspect of shopping for ready-to-wear suits is that retail brands almost never sell three-piece suits for women.
Image by Godisable Jacob from Pexels

Contrary to the desirable lean figure, I’d like to say that I stand on a generously curvy body category. To be precise, with a pear-shaped figure, I had limited options to go with the slacks, but I was sure that wearing a pantsuit was a much safer option than taking the risk of wearing skirts. After hours of searching for the right one to fit my figure, the process wasn’t a fruitful one. In the end, I went back home with two peplum dresses, one in black and another in beige. At that moment, it was hard to pass up the idea that maybe suits were not meant for ladies after all.

Classic Menswear And What They Mean To The Society

In the previous article, we explained what classic menswear is. But we never went in-depth to demystify the very genre itself. The term ‘classic menswear’ used as a synonym to the term ‘men’s clothing’, indicates its singular niche. And so, the sartorial critics have never shied away from comparing the word to masculinity and power. The effect of this term resonated from the past, say, dating back from the aristocracy during the Victorian era. From a man’s perspective ‘dressing up’ almost always means donning an immaculate suit. However, women are quite different in the sense that the options are wide. And when the options are vast, it also means there is no specific category that we belong to. The lines were drawn neatly that a gentleman should be dressed in fine suits fit for the occasion. Distinctively, a lady must be in a dress or a gown.

black tie
two-piece suit 
white suit
More often than not, when we see a woman in a suit, she’s either wearing a cami top or a blouse underneath the jacket. It is so rare we see a woman wearing a suit with a tie, and a button-up shirt.
Image by Bruno Emmanuelle from Unsplash

However, the very essence of fashion, whether sartorial or retail, is its evolution, the change. At first, changes were always confined to the structure and style of the dresses and suits. But over the decades, the lines were blurred in the classic menswear, when a more androgynous style was adapted. In that sense, timeless fashion like the ‘classic’ menswear has proved to move away from its misnomer. Away from its malestream niche. So did that mean women were now welcome into the gentleman’s classic menswear club? Is the society, at large, ready to embrace the change?

The Expansion To Classic Menswear

1. The High End Of The Formality Scale

When we speak of classic menswear and sartorial in terms of high-end fashion, there are several things that pop up in our minds. Most of us would resonate with the recent TV shows. The British crime drama, Peaky Blinders, and America legal drama, Suits are good examples. Let’s not forget the legendary suits worn by James Bond. But all these examples describe one thing – elegant, and handsome men in authority.

Women have also made powerful appearances in suits on-screen, but only until Tessa Thompson and her bespoke suit by Paul Smith in Men In Black: International, did people start seeing a suit for something beyond masculinity and recognise it for ‘power’. And remember Cara Delivinge who made an appearance in a mismatched tailcoat, shirt, and tie when she was a guest at Princess Eugenie of York’s Royal Wedding? The outfit that she pulled off was rather inappropriate for the occassion. Nevertheless, it was a fresh sight. Despite such statements on the high-end platform, the misnomer that classic menswear is men’s clothing is still a tacky mindset among the laymen.

2. Powerful Women In Power Suits, Corporate Or Otherwise

These are female celebrities who lead lives to stand out. The bizarre outfit choice is part of their job. If we look at important female figures like Hillary Clinton and Ellen DeGeneres, these women have always been thriving in their careers donning suits. But not without the prejudiced views that they’re up to something. Their power suits not romanticised as a femme fatale, but a real threat. In short, a woman in a suit is not the norm. It is always a ‘fashion statement’. The same ideology would apply to an average woman, like you and me, if we were to wear a suit in public, or at work. It is still foreign.

Two women in classic menswear attire discussing business at work
It’s a fact that women don’t wear suits, or blazers every day to work for fear of being judged for limited wardrobe choice. Women also face the fear of being judged by female co-workers for looking different from their peers.
Photo by CoWomen on Unsplash

The Evolution Of Classic WOMENswear

Dating back to the 1930s or the 1940s women may have worn suits but it is hard to dismiss the fact that they had worn them with a touch of femininity. Although these are still sartorial attires, they were not the power suits that we’re talking about. For instance, instead of wearing slacks, women opted for pencil skirts to match the jacket. Nothing wrong about a woman looking feminine, but it is the way society prefers to project this docile image through it. The society demands ladies to stick to outfits that will appease to its patriarchy comfort-zone.

Woman wearing a pink suit and white shirt.
A properly tailored suit should sit perfectly on the shoulder. The image above shows a bespoke suit that was fitted to flatter the lean structure of the model.
Credit: Image and tailoring by Gent’s Props, and model Nicole Erza Lau

The change in the classic menswear has benefitted women in the sense that it opened up its barrier and widened its scope to cater to feminine body structures. As Kinslager Tailoring‘s Founder Niels Strohkirch emphasises, the experts in the field have grown accustomed to the element of individuality, instead of following the rigid tradition as to how a suit should be worn and what it should look like. As such by expanding the view in the classic menswear department, making gender-neutral bespoke suits has become possible. Modern fashion enthusiasts would consider this a bold and progressive move towards equality.

When Women Are Competing In A Man’s World It Helps If You Project A Strong And Commanding Image

While we know that ready-to-wear suits are pet peeves for many women and men looking for their business suit, a bespoke suit is capable of making up for the things a retail suit will lack. But we don’t all live in places where bespoke tailoring is widely available, but Kinslager is an establishment that has served corporate clients from world-class brands on an international scale from its location in the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Woman with half lion face.
Kinslager is an establishment that caters to a wide array of bespoke suits. The very essence of their brand is diversity and individuality which breaks the threshold of classic menswear niche.
Credit: Image by Kinslager

Their craftsmanship differs from other bespoke tailors as they offer at a more affordable price range as well as high-end bespoke tailoring. While their brand relies on aspects such as elegance and comfort, individuality is their primary motto, as I said earlier. Their sartorial craftsmanship emphasises on a more gender-neutral niche.

Are You Worthy Of The Bespoke Experience?

The artistry in the sartorial classic menswear is an open-ended craftmanship, that takes about more than one stage to come to perfection. Just like the process of making a good cup of coffee, the behind-the-scenes of making a bespoke suit is part of the charm. Unfortunately, most retail tailors are just that, a retail business. They’re not exactly interested to establish a relationship with you. But what if there ARE tailors who are able to give you the ultimate bespoke experience? And we mean the Savile Row level of bespoke experience, outside of London’s exclusive Mayfair District? Come back for more when we share this unique retailer’s identity in the next episode.

About Kaveen ANANTHA

Self-study law graduate, with a penchant for creative writing. Not surprising that Kaveen prefers writing fantasy short stories than legal documents. A Potterhead at heart, and lives in her own little magical world of wizardry.

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