My husband’s parents and aunt and uncle have been in town. They loved Stockholm – the sights, the food, the cleanliness compared to England – but all they could talk about by the end of the trip was how they were having a hard time distinguishing between the men and women. It seems as though Stockholmers are an androgynous bunch.
I can understand their confusion. From what I can see, Swedish males wear much slimmer silhouettes than their Anglo counterparts. They aren’t afraid to show a bit more skin either (low-neck t-shirts or tailored shorts way above the knee, for instance). And in terms of personal grooming, there are hordes of guys with artfully styled hairdos versus what I can only deem as “functional” in England. In short, Swedish men are “pretty.”
The females, on the other hand, aren’t adverse to voluminous pieces that happen to de-emphasise their “womanly” curves. Or what the Black Eyed Peas lovingly refer to as “Lady Lumps.” But I digress. Sweden is also home to “difficult” items of women’s clothing such as flatforms (flat platform shoes), maxi-length skirts and boxy coats. When donned, it looks like a statement – deliberate or otherwise – against the need to look “sexy.”
I believe this “confusion,” however, is accurately representative of Sweden’s progressive attitude towards gender equality. Notions of “male” and “female” roles and qualities are not so black and white here. Or quite the polar opposites. I personally don’t like to buy into gender stereotypes either. Hence all the quotation marks I’ve been using.
Which brings me to fashion’s current fascination with androgyny. Yes, this season several women’s collections showed full-on trouser suits, brogues and ties (Dolce & Gabbana and Paul Smith leap to mind), while Jean Paul Gaultier and Rick Owens are still trying to advance the idea of skirts for men. But whereas female models looking boyish is nothing new (Stella Tennant, Agyness Deyn), people are now talking more and more about Lea T (the transgender model and muse of Givenchy’s designer Riccardo Tisci) and Andrej Peijic (“the prettiest boy in the world”).
Swedish designers are doing their part, too. Josefin Strid showed skirts for A/W 2011 and even dresses for S/S 2012 – for men. Ubi Sunt employs a type of draping that is usually reserved for womenswear. But perhaps it’s not as primitive as simply “borrowing” elements from the opposite gender. Because another strength of Swedish fashion is its unisex nature. Universal, even. So as androgyny continues to capture the imagination of designers, watch Swedish fashion become an even stronger point of reference. Fashion for all!